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Usually when I ask for a letters of recommendation, the professor give me an indication about how strong it is going to be. I asked a professor whom I am taking a course with, and while he doesn't know me very well, I did well in his course project which made me think that he might write a good letter. So I went and asked him (Before project submission) and he said that to put his name as a referee and gave me no indication about how strong it is going to be. He also said that he is looking forward to read my project report. (I told him it is a chance to get to know my work).

The next day I submitted project report and a few hours later I received an email from him telling me that he didn't receive letter submission link yet. I went and asked him what did he thought about the report and he said that he didn't read it yet. I hesitated because I already have 3 letters and his would be the fourth one which is really an extra.

A few days later, I ran into him and again he mentioned he didn't receive submission link and again I asked if he read the report and got the same response. This situation is a little confusing for me because I would rather not having his recommendation if it is not a strong one. On the other hand, he asked me three times to put his name as a referee which made me think that he is going to make a good letter.

Since I already have all the letters I need, should I take the risk of having his letter ? (I am applying to a long shot school anyway and he is well connected in that school, so his letter weights a lot, whether it is positive or negative)

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    Why don't you just ask him, "Do you think you feel like you know enough about my abilities to write a strong letter?" – ff524 Dec 15 '14 at 1:58
  • He doesn't, but after reading the report he might know enough. This is why I keep asking him about the report. – user18244 Dec 15 '14 at 2:01
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    Did you ask him? Or are you just assuming he doesn't? – ff524 Dec 15 '14 at 2:06
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    I never knew that you can ask the strength of the letter to a referee. Usually I assume that when the person to whom I'm asking to write letter doesn't think he can give strong letter, he/she will immediately tell me just that as the response of my request. – justhalf Dec 15 '14 at 7:01
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    @justhalf. Never leave that to chance. Simply ask "I'm wondering if you'd be able to write me a very strong letter of recommendation." – Corvus May 25 '15 at 8:38
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Two things.

First, he is demonstrating strong willingness to write a letter for you. Although you can't know for sure without asking directly, this is a good indication that his letter will be strong.

Second, ASK! In this situation, don't be afraid to ask him bluntly, as ff524 recommended.

Finally, in future, you can avoid some of this uncertainty by phrasing your request this way: "Are you willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for X application?" In this way you are asking not just for a letter, but for a strong letter, and their response will be more indicative of the strength of their letter.

And for this one, all indications point toward it being a risk worth taking. Best of luck on your application!

  • It would border to being unethical if a professor would offer to write a reference for a student he does not believe is good. Normally, a prof will only accept if they think they can help the student's case. Of course, that does not include cases where the student "coerces" the professor to write a letter of recommendation; in these cases, all bets are off. – Captain Emacs Aug 22 '16 at 7:51

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