Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Hello everyone! As I wrap up my applications, I am struggling with one major thing: recommendations. I have been "out of the game" for a few years pursuing other jobs and, later, yoga and feel very distant from my university professors. While I am still in touch with them about writing a letter for me , and with my professor from the workshop I attended this summer, I am getting worried that I will not be able to flush out three solid recommendations from this pool.

I have some wonderful bosses who I know would love to write a recommendation for me, but they can only speak to my leadership, attitude, etc. Any creative ideas/suggestions?


WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...

Jess, I'm going to echo Tom's famous words here: "Go with what you've got."

While you can certainly contact your former professors, I'd think long and hard about who would give you the best recommendation. Who can speak about your work ethic, your personality, your commitment to projects the most? Who KNOWS you?

If you do contact a former teacher (esp. if you have been out of school for a while) and if they agree to write a letter, I'd personally provide a bit more information about what you've been doing with your life, something that might jog their memory of who you are, and give them a very organized packet with timelines, your statement of purpose, writing sample (if they are a writing prof or want to use your writing as a ref. for their letters), and all the necc. links/ envelopes etc.

Admissions committees are cognizant of the fact that not everyone is going to have professors in their back pocket (esp. for MFAs which draw from a diverse applicant pool). The language on application forms are often geared toward traditional students (and really probably copied and pasted from undergraduate applications in many cases). I know a lot of people who used bosses, co-workers, volunteer service supervisors, editors, writers with some standing etc. as recommenders and were successful. Just make sure that the person you pick doesn't have a stake in your success/ is clearly biased. Someone that can speak as a writer or as a teacher is preferable but by no means necessary. Remember, if a committee is looking at your LORs, they probably like your writing and have put you in the strongly consider pile.

WanderingTree (Sequoia N.) said...

And while it may be a little late in the game, you can always take writing courses (online or in-person) and ask the instructor if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. I took online courses at Stanford and with the Mid-American Review, for instance.

Additionally, you might want to become involved with the online writing community whether that be online forums/workshops, blogs, twitter feeds etc. Networking is pretty important for a writer, so it's never to early to get your name out there. You'd be surprised at how many writers (both emerging and very established) offer their advice to folks still finding their way. Check out places like Fictionaut,, HTML Giant, LitPark etc. Comment on articles and form relationships with other writers. One of my recommenders, a former NEA Fellowship recipient and a very accomplished writer, is someone that I met online three years ago. I've never met her in person, but she knows my work and, in many ways, can speak more about my ethic and abilities as a commenter/workshopper than people I know in "real life".

Brittany said...

I used a boss as a recommender and I got into 2 programs. I don't think there's a real taboo against it. I say as long as you have at least one writing professor write you a letter, you're good.

Claire Dawn said...

Thank you for asking this question. I'm on my 3rd year out of school, and I have 2 more before I get back. Plus, my undergrad degree is in French and Spanish, so I worry about references as well.

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