I'm a third year undergraduate engineering student in India.

I am applying for a research program at a foreign university which will start at the end of my third year. This internship program requires at least one and a maximum of two letters of recommendation. As is the case for many students in my college (and I suspect many Indian engineering undergrads as well), I do not have much interaction with most of my professors outside of classes. My grades are decent but nothing spectacular in my courses.

Hence, I only have one strong letter of recommendation from a professor with whom I am doing a project. The rest of my professors who I have spoken to about the same have only given me tepid responses and have advised me to come back only if I cannot find anyone else ready to give me a letter.

In this case, what should I do for filing my LoRs? Would it be better to submit only the strong LoR or should I submit a weaker LoR as well?


It depends a lot on how you define "a weak LoR". Consider 5 levels:

  • +2: My best student in 10 years.
  • +1: DWIC (did well in class) + hard working, take initiative etc
  • 0 : Simply DWIC, e.g. Kerkyra's LoR.
  • -1: He was in my class, he asked me to write LoR.
  • -2: Don't take him

Unless you make someone very upset, people will not write a -1 and -2 LoRs. If you believe the weak ones are still +1s, you can submit.

FYI, I fell out with my Master thesis advisor, and decided not to use his LoR (he still offered to write one). I managed to get 3 PhD admissions with full scholarship using three +1 LoRs (but I submitted more than 50 applications).

Good luck!

  • In my case I would put my strong one at at least +1 (can't say if +2). My weak one could fall into the 0 category or -1 depending on which professor I ask for providing me with the LoR. Sep 12 '17 at 9:14
  • anything in the negatives should be omitted unless really necessary IMO
    – user44476
    Sep 13 '17 at 4:03

Definitely submit only the strong one.

A weak letter of recommendation can actually harm you. Once, a PI with whom I did an internship agreed to write a letter, and I learned later that he basically wrote "Kerkyra was in my lab for 6 months, she did a good job, everything went ok." Needless to say, I didn't get the scholarship. A tepid recommendation just carries the message "I knew this guy for 6 months and I couldn't find one enthusiastic thing to say", which is terrible.

There's still the possibility that your professor would write an amazing letter without knowing you, but I wouldn't take the risk - especially since you already can get one strong letter. It's pretty good for an undergraduate.

  • 1
    Excellent advice. Further supporting this answer is that only one letter is actually required, so there is no point is submitting additional, weak letters.
    – user136
    Sep 13 '17 at 6:33

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