I am applying to the graduate program in astronomy in US universities. In support of my application I have provided three recommendation letters. Two are from my thesis advisors, while the remaining one is from my course instructor who works in condensed matter physics. He is well known in his field, but perhaps not in astronomy. I did very well in his course and he agreed to write a good (but not detailed) letter for me. Will this hurt my chances of admission?

  • Related: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/86545/…
    – user69180
    Mar 27, 2017 at 15:26
  • 1
    Will this hurt my chances of admission?Compared to what? Compared to having only two rec letters, definitely not. Compared to having a weak third letter from a third well-known astronomer, definitely not. Compared to having a strong letter from a third well-known astronomer, possibly.
    – JeffE
    Apr 26, 2017 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


Obviously, the better your letters of recommendation are, the better they support your application package. Impersonal, though supportive, letters may not hurt your package, but they don't help as much as fantastic letters from people who know you well.

So, not so much "hurt", but "not as much help as it could be", which some would say is equivalent to "hurt"


When you have to produce 3-4 recommendation letters, which is a lot for a PhD candidate, it is normal that some will be from slightly unrelated people (an instructor from a course that you liked, tutor, head of department, etc). It does not hurt you, since many (most?) other applicants besides you will have the same situation.

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