4

I am in the process of looking at applying to do a Masters degree. I finished my bachelors degree about 4 years ago, and this will be a different university I am applying to, in a different country (bachelors was in UK, masters will be in NL)

Since I don't know who works at the previous university any more (and didn't really have any particular person to ask anyway, as none of them are likely to remember me), what would be the procedure to go about getting a letter of recommendation from someone there?

Should I just email their Student Services department? Or is there some particular process for this?

Thanks.

  • 12
    LORs are "personal" commitments from people that know you. That counts old professors that remember you, regardless of where they are at the moment. IMHO, you won't get letters from people that do not know you... – Fábio Dias Oct 5 '15 at 21:14
  • 1
    So how do you go about getting one from your old university? I don't see how everyone else would still have contact details from old professors they had 1 years worth of lectures from, several years ago.. – CMR Oct 6 '15 at 10:59
  • 1
    This just doesn't make sense to me. I don't see how several years later they are expected to remember who I am, as I was 1 student in very large classes, which they have every year. Unless you personally made friends with them and have their contact details. Otherwise, anyone who didn't, would essentially be ruled out of even being able to apply for a masters, based on not personally knowing someone. Surely the university itself must be able to provide something? – CMR Oct 6 '15 at 18:07
  • 1
    If no professor knows you, yep, you don't get any LORs. You don't need to "make friends" with the professor, good grades on his/her course should be enough. An undergrad research advisor would be better, but not necessary. It won't be a stellar letter, but for MS, it doesn't need to be. Just to reinforce: letters of recommendation are personal, not institutional. – Fábio Dias Oct 6 '15 at 19:04
  • 1
    @FábioDias - If you put these great comments in an Answer, I will vote it up. Conn, the trick is to attach an unofficial transcript to your email to the former instructor. I recently asked a professor I took a class from 25 years ago for a LOR. Four years isn't so bad! // If you really can't get any letters from instructors, then submit some letters from employers or others who are in a position to enthuse about your approach to academic-type projects, along with a short explanation why you aren't submitting any LORs from instructors. – aparente001 Oct 15 '15 at 23:30
4

(transforming the comments into an answer)

The point your question seems to be missing is that professors give recommendation letters, not institutions. LORs are "personal" commitments from people that know you, know how you work, behave, etc. People that do not know you will most likely decline or send worthless letters.

That counts old professors that remember you, regardless of where they are at the moment. Track them down. And there is not that much of turnover in universities, I graduated 10 years ago, most of my professor are still there...

If no professor knows you, you won't get LORs. You don't need to "make friends" with the professor, good grades on his/her course should be enough. An undergrad research advisor would be better, but not necessary. It won't be a stellar letter, but for MS, it doesn't need to be. Just to reinforce: letters of recommendation are personal, not institutional.

  • 1
    I ended up emailing the professor who supervised my final year project and she agreed to do the letters for me. Now I just have to get around the awkwardness of the Dutch universities expecting me to upload the letter in my application, whereas she will only post it to the university directly. But one thing at a time! – CMR Nov 2 '15 at 18:01
0

The basic dilemma you seem to be caught in is that there is a certain contradiction of systems:

  • In some cultures/institutions, it is completely normal not to be known by any professor while doing one's Bachelor/Master degree. It is not a sign of sub-par motivation or skills, and it is not a failure of any sort; it is the expected flow of one's student career that might let a student get directly in touch at most with a few doctoral candidates.
  • At the same time, some cultures/institutions are completely unaware of this (or choose to ignore it). As a result, they might request a fixed number of LORs for certain types of application, leaving it up to the candidate to get those letters in a system that is not designed to provide students with opportunities to get such letters.

Still, there are a few chances for solving this issue:

  • You could try and ask the supervisor of some personally supervised project you did, such as a graduation thesis.
  • If that supervisor was a doctoral candidate, they might have left the university by the time you need the LoR. In some fields, many, if not most doctoral candidates leave academia for good after getting their doctoral degree, and it might even be impossible to track your supervisor down when they work in the industry. Moreover, the new employer might not allow the former supervisor to provide any semi-public confirmation on behalf of the supervisor's former job at the university to former students.
  • You could try and ask the former examiner of your project or PI of the supervisor (in scenarios I am familiar with, this is often the same person). It is well possible they do not know you (and possibly even never met you in person), but they may be able to dig up the internal report about your project from your former supervisor.
  • You might try and contact the examiner of an exam where you got good results. While the examiner might not know you, you could try and explain your situation and highlight that you would like to focus on the topics of that exam in your future career.

Note that in all of these cases, a somewhat likely outcome is that they will ask you to write the LoR yourself and then submit it to that person for checking whether they can agree with the statements in the letter and sign it. Beware that especially people from LoR-writing cultures tend to consider this practice severely fraudulent, while especially people from non-LoR-writing cultures tend to see this practice as completely ok and in fact the only reasonable way for students to get a LoR.

  • Moreover, the new employer might not allow the former supervisor to provide any semi-public confirmation on behalf of the supervisor's former job at the university to former students. — WHAT? [citation needed] In what country/jurisdiction can employers legally forbid discussion of previous employment in their personal correspondence? Even the NSA and Apple let their employees discuss their previous nonclassified jobs. – JeffE Nov 2 '15 at 11:33
  • @JeffE: In some universities in Germany, university-employed doctoral candidates are not allowed to certify to any external entity that a given student was supervised in some project by said doctoral candidate, even if the supervised student themselves requests so. (At least, that is the interpretation of some people in charge who want to channel any legally tangible information to external entities through as few people/offices as possible.) If even people employed at the university are not supposed to make public statements, I would extra-careful when working in the industry. ... – O. R. Mapper Nov 2 '15 at 11:57
  • 2
    But a recommendation letter isn't an official statement on behalf of any institution. It's a personal statement by the author of their own professional opinion. – JeffE Nov 2 '15 at 12:03
  • 1
    In some universities in Germany — Which ones? – JeffE Nov 2 '15 at 12:04
  • 3
    printed on university letter paper and indicated the author's role in the university rather than just their degree — Same here! But that does not make them official statements on behalf of the institution, but rather statements of the individual author, with an official declaration of university affiliation as identification. Any official seals (rare but not unheard of in my experience) are official corroboration by the university that the author is indeed who he claims to be, not a sign that the university officially approves the text of the letter. – JeffE Nov 4 '15 at 0:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.