I will be applying to philosophy phd programs after completing my BA in philosophy and while completing a one year masters program (immediately after college) in philosophy. I impressed a certain professor in my third year of college during which I took two classes with her. If I want a recommendation from her is it important that I take another class during my senior year of college so that her opinion of me will be current? My last class with her was in spring of my third year, and I will apply at the end of Fall of my masters program (equivalent to 5th year of college). If I don't take another class with her, there will be applying after three consecutive semesters of not having her.

I understand that the fact that I will have learned more material means that a letter based on later coursework might be stronger. But I'm mainly curious if admissions committees would partially discount a letter because they thought it to be based on 'outdated' (in my case, by a year or two) information.


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    I wouldn't think so as long as you've kept in contact with her and she's aware of your general progress. She can speak to your successes in her class and continued success. If you are not convinced that the letter you get from her is going to be amazing, I'd reconsider. An okay letter isn't going to do a lot of good since your academic interactions are a bit dated. I would also suggest you make sure your other letters come from professors you have had courses (or projects) with more recently. Jun 23, 2015 at 2:20
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    The professor should be familiar with the courses that you took as a fourth year undergraduate and might be familiar with your current master's program. You should provide her with copies of your transcripts so that she can write something like "Since taking these two courses with me, Al has gone on to earn A's in a number of senior level courses in our program and is doing well in his master's program. I'm confident that he'll continue to do well in your PhD program." Jun 23, 2015 at 3:24

2 Answers 2


I don't have experience with philosophy, but I can't imagine this part of admissions is too different. It's pretty common for students to have one or more letters from faculty they haven't had classes with in the past year, so no that's not a problem. (In fact, sometimes it happens with all the letters, if the student takes time off--e.g., see: If you want to do a PhD in mathematics, how important is it to start immediately after finishing undergraduate studies? ) What's important is that each letter writer should have something meaningful to say about your preparation, talent, attitude, performance, work ethic, etc. Also, depending on the circumstances, it may be very natural for you to continue to have plenty of interactions with this professor over the next year or so whether or not you take another class with her.

That said, you should get letters from some people you've taken in your 4th-5th year (particularly master's classes if possible). The main reason for this is you want recommendations which can discuss your performance in more advanced classes, which is presumably what you'll be taking.


Two further things to think about in terms of who you get to write your letters in philosophy.

First, there's something to be said for having recommendations from the most current institution. I have a PhD in philosophy and an MA from a different institution in philosophy. When I asked one of the faculty from MA school, he was fine with writing a letter but suggested that it looks bad if you're fishing back beneath your highest institution. Surely, this is not as significant when applying to PhD programs after a 1 year MA.

Second, the key is to have strong recommendations. So make sure you're asking her because you think she will write a really strong letter. And the "strength" of a letter is a function both of her stellar view of your ability to do philosophy and also a measure of how well known she is to the institutions where you are applying.

In general, people willing to write recommendations are motivated to get you accepted to the next level, so keep that in mind.

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