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How should I ask for letters of recommendation whose strength is dependent on intended program?

So I found out that one of the professors recommended a junior coursemate for an internship even though that coursemate got a 1.0 (0.0 is the lowest, and 4.0 is a the highest with 1.0 being the lowest passing mark) in the class.

Letters of recommendation do depend on the intended program right? If I were leaving math completely for say law or business I'm going to have a higher chance of having a recommendation letter and even higher strength of recommendation letter compared to applying for a PhD program in math right?

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    It's not like there's some objective scale that maps quality of the student to quality of the recommendation letter. Different students may impress potential letter writers in different ways (one might have impressive grades, another might have poor grades but shown impressive insight despite that, etc.) Similarly, some students may show aptitude for different things than others. – ff524 Jul 12 '16 at 22:13
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    My answer is that Student A might get better letters for Path X than Path Y, while Student B might get better letters for Path Y than Path X. The answer to "Strength or Existence of letters of recommendation do depend on the intent right?" is yes, the answer to "If I were leaving math completely for say law or business I'm going to have a higher chance of having a recommendation letter and even higher strength of recommendation letter compared to applying for a PhD program in math right?" is no, not necessarily. – ff524 Jul 12 '16 at 22:16
  • @ff524 So you're technically not answering my question but addressing the motivation coming from the situation with the junior coursemate namely that the junior coursemate may have impressed the professor in some other way leading the professor to write the internship recommendation letter and that may or may not have something to do with the recommendation letter being for an internship? – Jack Bauer Jul 12 '16 at 22:16
  • @ff524 Okay i deleted my comment and posted a new one. thank you for answering my stupid questions though :) So you're answering and also pointing out that thing about the low relevance of the recommendation letter being for an internship? – Jack Bauer Jul 12 '16 at 22:18
  • I wouldn't call it an answer so much as a comment on the flawed premise of the question, but yes. – ff524 Jul 12 '16 at 22:19
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Your question seems to contain an assumption that there's some inherent ordering of programs from "easy" to "hard" (law and business being "easy" and math being "hard"), and that a letter for an "easier" program would automatically be stronger. There's no such ordering.

Any reasonable professor would try to write a letter that addresses the strengths and weaknesses of the student in skills that are relevant to the program in question. Different programs and areas of study require different skills, and the strength of the letter will depend on the student's strength in that specific area.

For example, suppose the professor has observed that a student excels in logical reasoning, but struggles with public speaking and analyzing real-world situations. If the student were applying for a program in mathematics, in which logical reasoning is important, they'd likely get a strong recommendation. If the student were applying to a business program, in which it is important to analyze real-world situations and speak convincingly about them, they'd likely get a weak recommendation, or the professor might decline to write one at all.

  • Okay about what about the internship? Is that considered easy while PhD is hard? Another example is masters vs PhD. Masters is easy while PhD is hard? Relatively of course – Jack Bauer Jul 13 '16 at 16:40
  • @JackBauer What I am saying is that the whole idea of trying to classify things as "easy" and "hard" is unhelpful. Again, a professor's letter will address the qualifications of the student for that specific educational or job opportunity. – Nate Eldredge Jul 13 '16 at 17:41

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