I am an undergraduate student getting ready to apply for graduate school in a few months. I have worked in two jobs in Physics (my desired field), one in experimental and one theoretical. At each job I have at least two people willing to provide reference letters, and I believe all of them would be good references.

Many of the graduate application websites indicated that 2 (or more) letters of reference are required.

When I apply to one of these programs is it better to double down and use 2 letters that apply to the same program (ie, use 2 references from experimental group when applying to an experimental graduate program)? Or would it be better to have a bit of variety (ie, one letter from each group, regardless of whether I am applying to experimental or theoretical)?

I'm leaning towards the variety, because I think that two letters from the same job would end up having the said the same thing, whereas the variety gives the university an idea of my breadth of knowledge.

  • You might consider getting 3 letters, if you think you can get 3 good letters.
    – Kimball
    Aug 5 '16 at 10:31

All else being equal, the variety would be beneficial.

I agree with Anonymous Physicist that the specific content of the letters is most important.

However, if you don't have a strong preference based on who you think will write the best letters, I would go with your instinct of getting one letter from each job. Showing that you can succeed in multiple contexts, in different kinds of work, is a good thing.


The content of the letter is more important than whether the author is a theorist or experimentalist. I suggest you ask your letter writers what they think. They will know if they will write you a good letter better than I will.

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