I want to do a Master's in CS, but I didn't do the undergraduate in CS, so I want to know if I can get a letter of recommendation from a professor that I know but who didn't actually teach me.

  • 1
    So.. if you didn't have any classes with the professor, what will they know about you and from where - i.e. did you frequently stop by his office to talk about a project of sorts, or were you involved in a club or student organization which he was a part of? Oct 6, 2015 at 0:31
  • The deal with letters of recommendation is you've given the author some measure of critique of YOUR character. If all he has to write in this letter is "I knew this individual," there's simply nothing to recommend. Speak in office hours, let this person know your aspirations and abilities so that they have a gleaming letter to send on your behalf.
    – CKM
    Oct 6, 2015 at 0:38
  • @Kendall: While it's not necessary for the interaction to be formal, it would be dishonest for a professor to send a "gleaming" letter concerning someone they just met, merely repeating things the student has told them. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a mentoring relationship.
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 6, 2015 at 1:56
  • Sometimes professors/researchers ask the candidates to draft a LOR and send it to them, as they are busy people, and would like to optimize their time. So put yourself on his/her shoes, and draft a recommendation letter for yourself from the point-of-view of the professor, if you are struggling to come up with anything concrete, then perhaps you should rethink whether to ask that person for LOR.
    – Sayan
    Oct 6, 2015 at 2:34
  • @BenVoigt I poorly worded that, it was my intention to allude that a developed relationship is what would lead to a good letter!
    – CKM
    Oct 6, 2015 at 18:05

3 Answers 3


The general rule when it comes to letters of recommendation is that you should not ask for a letter from someone who does not know you well.

In this particular case, it's not sufficient that the professor you want to ask knows you. It is more important that he knows your work well, and can comment on that to graduate schools regarding your potential as a future student in their program.

  • I don't think this is true. Letters aren't binary, it's not "letter or no letter". Their length and content matter. You can write a short letter confirming you think someone is bright or honest or whatever and worth a shot even if you only know them and not their work. Not for a tenure-track faculty position obviously, but for a masters that might be sufficient. If the student also has strong marks or good letters from an employer, having an academic say that they've talked to the student for an hour and they seem to understand what an MSc involves could be a useful plus to an application Jun 8, 2016 at 19:29

You can get a letter from anyone who is willing to write one for you. They will normally only say they will write the letter if they know something about you. I've personally written letters a few times for students who had problems with their dissertation supervisor, and I knew something about their work for one reason or another, e.g. they'd tutored for me, I'd second marked their (undergraduate) dissertation, they've turned up regularly to research seminars and asked good questions or even given a talk, they've done research with me or my PhD students. Actually, some of those can be more important than having taken a class with someone.

If someone asks me for a letter and I don't know them, if they just ask me because I'm well known in my field, and they can't say why they want me to write the letter, then I will tell them I can't write a strong letter. If I have time and they still insist, I write a letter that says "I can confirm that this is a student at my university, their GPA is [whatever, I look it up], and I have no idea why they asked me to write this letter." Depending what you need the letter for, it's possible that would be enough.

A better plan would be to exploit office hours, sign up and visit a few times, discuss (first read!) their papers, and then asks for a letter. Then the letter might be made stronger by the impression you've made.


Keep in mind the overall goal -- you want to convince the admissions committee that you're a great student, and would do well in their program.

Of course you can point out your own strengths yourself, but it's even better if someone they trust testifies to your strengths. If the person your asking hasn't seen your strengths personally, they won't be able to write a personal letter attesting to them.

So get to know people, either by going to office hours (as said above), taking a class, taking up a side project, or working for them.

If you want to stick with people you already know, you should be aware yourself about how your background in ___ prepared you for a CS degree, or shows you're likely to succeed. If you can let the recommenders know how they can help and why you chose them, they might realize they can help rather than thinking they cant.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .