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[See title.] It seems ok, but one might consider it unfair in some sense? I just wanted to make sure this is acceptable. (I am specifically talking about graduate school applications.)


Edit: I apologize for previously withholding some information. Here are some more details.

  • I am majoring in math and will have two letters from math professors at my undergrad institution.
  • I also have a letter from a professor in a different department ("probability/statistics") in the same institution and am applying to this department's graduate program.
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    It is more than okay; it makes it very likely that you will be admitted. – David Ketcheson Sep 22 '14 at 2:15
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    @DavidKetcheson Doesn't that depend a lot on what the letter says? I agree it's not bad as a strategy, but one letter can only do so much. – Ben Webster Sep 22 '14 at 2:19
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    @BenWebster It certainly does, but why would a professor write a letter of recommendation to be sent to his/her own program unless the letter is very strong? I certainly wouldn't recommend a mediocre student to my own program. – David Ketcheson Sep 22 '14 at 2:23
  • @DavidKetcheson I wouldn't count on everybody having that attitude. Some professors aren't willing to tell a student that they can't write them a strong enough letter (and sometimes students are in a borderline situation); you can't, as someone getting a letter, just assume it's strong because the person agreed to write it. – Ben Webster Sep 22 '14 at 2:34
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Yes, this is fine. On the whole, a letter from someone in the department is better than a random one, in that the writer is well-known to the people on the committee. So, certainly this isn't something you should go to trouble to avoid.

EDIT: It seems from comments that the OP is applying to their own undergraduate institution. That's it's own can of worms (many schools heavily discourage this, for good reasons, I think), but I think there's no question that you must get at least one letter from the institution you attended as an undergraduate. It would look really problematic if you didn't (committees would assume no one there would write you a good recommendation, and thus wonder what you did to ruin your reputation).

EDIT 2: Just to comment further, given that the OP also left out that they are changing to a different department from their undergraduate degree. In that case, having a letter from someone in the department is a big help. I don't think the jump from math to statistics is so big, but generally it's very good to have letters from someone who knows the program and what it takes to succeed in it well, which is always tricky when shifting between fields.

  • Have to agree, it's generally a good thing when the 1) the people you're going to be working with want you to be there, and 2) someone is willing to stake his reputation on you. – corsiKa Sep 22 '14 at 2:48
  • Thank you for your input and for your edit! I have added a few more details in my original post; apologies for not being clearer. – angryavian Sep 22 '14 at 13:58
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Yes, although there are some caveats.

The best letters come from people who know you for an extended period of time under a variety of circumstances that would reflect the entirety of the qualifications you'd need in graduate school.

Presuming that you weren't an undergraduate at that university, then how well would the letter writer know you? One scenario would be that the letter writer had been a faculty member at your previous college and who had transferred to the new one. In this case, they could make a strong argument for why you would be a good candidate.

But if the letter writer simply knew you from a summer program or other short relationship, then their letter would not be as strong as someone who knew you for four years.

Addendum: The OP clarified that he is applying to the same institution that he graduated from as an undergraduate. In this instance, I agree with Ben Webster that it is critical that at least one of his letters should be from a faculty member at that institution.

  • I think that would make more sense for someone with a bit more experience for sure. If someone just finished their 4 year undergraduate program, you would not expect them to have developed more than a few months contact with anyone outside their institution unless they were a very well traveled individual. Someone in industry and academia for 20 years should have a reference from someone they worked with more than a few months. But a summer program can literally be 10% of a recent bachelor's entire 'career', which is significant. – corsiKa Sep 22 '14 at 2:50
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    Thank you for your input! I worked with him for one semester at my undergrad institution and am applying to the graduate program at the same institution. – angryavian Sep 22 '14 at 2:55
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    If you're applying to the same institution you graduate from, you should probably ask another question about that feasibility (also noting which country you're in). Some universities are very adamant about not bringing in their own undergraduates into the graduate program. Some don't care. – RoboKaren Sep 22 '14 at 3:12
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    @SteveJessop I don't know about asking it as a separate question, but it certainly seems like relevant information for this particular OP. Not having a recommender from your undergraduate institution would be a huge red flag. – Ben Webster Sep 22 '14 at 13:40
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    @BenWebster With regard to the "attending grad school at the same place" question, here is a post on this website. As for my situation, I have added more details to my original post; apologies for not being clearer! – angryavian Sep 22 '14 at 14:00

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