Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Any advice for angelle re: recommendations?

She writes:

i have a question about recommendations. obviously, for the first two, i'll be using teachers in workshops/classes i've enrolled in who are familiar with my work and believe i have potential. but regarding the third... you mentioned in the book that we should include someone who can speak to what we've done with our years between undergrad and now, and i wanted to get more clarification on that. i've worked straight out of college for 3 years at a PR agency. part of my job description includes writing press releases and materials and such, so they know i'm a good writer (if not in a creative capacity). my question is, should i be using my 3rd rec from a supervisor at work? and what should they be speaking to? is it more of an overall work ethic/perseverance/intelligence sort of thing? or do you think since i didn't work in a "publishing/writing" sort of field, i should just include a third teacher rec from a class i've taken? thanks!!!


Anna said...

angelle, you wrote:

"you mentioned in the book that we should include someone who can speak to what we've done with our years between undergrad and now, and i wanted to get more clarification on that."

That was specifically addressed to Tom, wasn't it? His e-mail (which appears on the main page of the blog) is tom.kealey@gmail.com if you'd like his response in particular--I believe he'd be happy to help.

I haven't applied to MFA programs, but I've done a lot of research on the application materials for each school, and also looked at what rec forms look like. Generally they ask a lot of questions about an applicant's academic potential and academic work ethic, so if I were applying I'd try to make it all professors, if I had that many professors who knew my work well enough and were willing to back me.

Anastasia said...


Every MFA program is looking for teachable applicants. Can anyone at work speak to how well you take and respond to criticism? Your work ethic? Employers are frequently better suited than your professors to address these character traits.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your recommendation letters are not that important. Your writing sample and personal statement will count for more. In my case, one of the programs did not receive my recommendation letters. They liked the stories and the essay, however, and called me to get the letters. I got the admissions call from the director a day or two after the missing materials were in. Based on the timing, I doubt they weighed heavily in the program's decision to admit me.

Amy said...

Here's my experience:

I was out of school for about 16 years (gulp!) before applying to my MFA program. I had one college writing professor who I am very friendly with who provided a recommendation, but the other two that I received were from people familiar with my writing and whom I had known for years and years. They were able to attest to the work that I had done in recent years, and the discipline with which I approached my writing. One was well-connected (a former editor of a major newspaper), the other was simply someone who was also a writer, who knew both me and my work well and could vouch for my credentials and my ability and desire to embark on such a program.

gordon said...

Professional recommendations are absolutely valid. If it were me, I'd avoid any school that wouldn't accept them.

Given you've only been out of school for a few years, an academic reco would probably mean more, and it sounds like you have that covered. But consider Amy's case, or mine where I was out of school for 10 years. Who you are and what you do at work should play into your academic potential... and it definitely does.

Bolivia Red said...

When I decided to go to grad school, it had been a long while (almost two decades) since undergrad and I didn't think my profs would actually remember me or my work. When I tracked them down, not only did they remember me, but they were totally excited to write me letters. These were two lit professors I'd had for several classes and had made a point of visiting for office hours to go over work outside of class.

If you had a favourite prof or two with whom you had good rapport, I'd say look them up.

On the flip side, I also had to use a recommendation from a colleague at work who could speak to my work ethic and ability to complete projects and such.

Amy is right that an employer or colleague can speak to your work ethic and such. Partly the recommendations are to show you can handle graduate level work. I would add that non-academics can also speak to whether you play well with others and won't snarl at fellow workshoppers or bite freshmen comp students. They can show what an interesting and creative person you are in general.

Karissa Chen said...

thanks for the great advice, everyone. having read all of your comments, i think an employer would be able to offer a different angle on work ethic and perseverance and such, so i think i will include. thanks again!

Katherine said...

For my recommendation letters, I chose one prof that I had worked with on my writing, the chair of the English department, who knew me as a very ambitious student, and my boss of four years, who could speak about my personal growth and work ethic.

I got into Emerson College with that combo, and after talking to a few profs, they've told me that that is exactly the kind of combo they look for in rec. letters.