I belong to an environment where gaining a valuable/ meaningful Letter of Recommendation (LoR) is difficult. There exist various reasons, from they themselves not being researchers to fake letters; but that is not the region of interest for this question.

I have been working in the industry for couple of years, where I had the opportunity to work with a Masters student. I mentored her, worked on a project, and we have proposed a new algorithm. That is pending a review, but we have put a pre-print on arXiv. A notable thing is, there was no other project guide. I, and my student, we both believe and agree to the fact that I led the project and saw it to the succession, be it the underlying mathematics or drafting a paper.

I am applying to US universities for MS degree in Computer Science. As mentioned above, running out of quality recommendations.

So the question is: will it be considered a quality letter if my student writes it? The thought of doing so occurred to me while reading that, in the application, review committee looks out for the direct proofs that persons is capable of conducting a quality research. I felt that this project is my biggest evident proof.

I already agree that from person to person, the scenario would differ. But objectively, are there solid reasons? Have you witnessed such a case in the past? If yes, did it have a positive impact?

  • Perhaps your student and her advisor could write the letter together, or write tandem letters. Sep 8, 2016 at 21:26

3 Answers 3


There are at least a couple of issues which could lessen the persuasiveness of any recommendation your student offers.

Firstly, consider a mentor/lecturer/supervisor/etc. asked to write a letter of recommendation for a student. It's likely that they have other students, and so have better grounds to make comparisons about the strengths and weaknesses of the student. Now consider your student. You may be one of only a small number of mentors they've had, and they may have little to compare you against.

Secondly, there is the issue of power. If a student asks their mentor to write a letter of recommendation for them they can exert very little power over them, and consequently the reader would be less concerned that the writer has been coerced to say things they don't necessarily believe. Now reverse the power relation. You may have influence over the educational outcomes of your student. Would your student feel comfortable making negative points about you if they could potentially lead to you not being accepted onto the masters.

Now, I'm not saying that your student's opinions are baseless, or that you would use your position of power to force them write something that they didn't believe, but if I was presented with two equally good LoRs, one written by a professor and another written by a student of the candidate, I'd likely put more worth in the former.

The other answers suggest a few possible alternative referees, which I'd agree with.


There's nothing to stop you from submitting a LOR written by your former student but it's very difficult to see how such a letter could help you (in either business or academia). If you can't get someone who has supervised your work to write your letter, you should at least try to find a peer who could do it.


The bar is fairly low for MSc degrees. Most masters degrees are profit centers for departments/universities.

You could ask your student, but you could also ask your old college professors (even if ten+ years ago), priest, or work supervisors. They should at least attest you have a pulse and no apparent criminal tendencies.

  • 1
    An MS program in CS at a good university is likely to get plenty of qualified applicants. It's a lower bar than getting into a PhD program, but it's not as if there are no standards.
    – user37208
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:15

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