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I have graduated nearly 5 years ago and I want to get a Computer Science Master's degree from an above average school in U.S. or Canada, preferably a thesis based degree.

However, I am having difficulty in getting recommendation letters since I graduated long time ago. And, even if I get any letters, my professors are not professional, they ask me to write them myself. Long ago when I asked for a position they did so and sure they will do the same now. So I got stuck in an handicapped position for my future grad school pursuits.

Please recommend me some ways to overcome this situation. Should I go for a one term non-degree program in U.S. or Europe to get a letter from a professional member of an academic community who is capable of doing this job.

End Note: I am in a third world country.

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It's important to have at least one letter from a former professor, but especially for a professional master's degree, strong recommendation letters from work supervisors can also be effective, as long as they're tuned correctly. I did this. It's probably best to ask someone with an advanced degree if possible — not for the pedigree, but because they might remember academic culture/goals better than someone who hasn't spent time in the ivory tower. It's important that your letter does not simply praise you as a programmer, but as a potential computer scientist. The letter should emphasize your intellectual and creative contributions, your problem-solving skills, and your potential for further academic study.

Remember that writing academic recommendation letters is not a standard part of most industry management jobs; you are asking for a significant favor. Nevertheless, you should strongly resist requests to write the letter yourself. Have an open and frank discussion about the purpose of the letter, their perceptions of your matching strengths, the points that you think should be emphasized. Give them your CV with appropriate points highlighted. Then ask them again if they are willing to write you a strong recommendation letter; be sincerely willing to take no for an answer.

Signing up for a short non-degree program in U.S. or Europe is an excellent idea, but it's important to take proper advantage. Don't just sit in class and get an A. Talk with your instructors early about your goals for graduate study. Try to get involved with faculty research, or at lest an independent study project.

Finally, I'd recommend pursuing both of these avenues simultaneously. Give yourself as many options as possible!

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I would not necessarily assert that professors asking for you to write your letter for them are 'unprofessional'. It's quite possible, and even common for professors to request this for a number of reasons:

  • You know you better than they know you - a letter written by you has the full depth of your experience available to be written about. This is especially important in a circumstance like yours, where their direct memory of you might have faded with time.
  • You likely have a better understanding of what parts of your CV, studies, etc. you'd like to be highlighted. For example, while they might think X about you is important, if you're trying to craft a narrative in your application materials that's all about your skills in Y, it's important they know that.
  • Professors are busy people, and crafting a good letter requires a great deal of effort. Providing them a framework with which to work off of as they add their own language, opinions, etc. will save them a great deal of time.

I wouldn't automatically assume it's a sign of unprofessionalism. I've been asked to write my own letter by professors who I worked extremely closely with because of some of the reasons I outlined above.

  • Probably your professors used it as a draft. But here they don"t give a dime to it they just sign even without reading the letter. – tengri Apr 14 '13 at 12:20
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    I would not necessarily assert that professors asking for you to write your letter for them are 'unprofessional'. — I would. Yeah, writing letters is hard and time-consuming, but it's part of their job. That doesn't mean they shouldn't ask for input, especially with this time delay, but the words should be theirs. – JeffE Apr 14 '13 at 14:19
  • @JeffE You're welcome to disagree but well...I disagree. Nor does it necessarily imply the words aren't theirs - the professors I've had ask me for a letter then did a great deal of editing, changing and infusing their own thoughts, but they wanted to know the narrative I was trying to establish. – Fomite Apr 14 '13 at 19:55

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