How Do I Get a Letter of Recommendation When I Attend an Online University?

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Recently a reader asked: "My bachelor's degree is from an online university. How do I get a letter of recommendation?"

As a student in an online undergraduate institution, it is likely that you will never meet any of your professors face-to-face. Does that mean that you can't get a letter of recommendation from them? Think of it this way, does your professor have to know what you look like in order to determine whether you are "graduate school material?" No.

All you need are experiences with the faculty member (in class or through advising) that illustrate your competence. That said, it is unquestionably more difficult to get these experiences without face-to-face contact in a traditional college setting.

Who to Ask?
How do you determine who to ask? Remember that faculty need to know enough about you to write a helpful letter stating that you will do well in grad school. Which faculty have you had the most contact with? Consider what classes you've taken. Have you had a professor more than once? An advisor who you have discussed your coursework with over several semesters? A thesis committee? Did you obtain a high grade for a lengthy and detailed paper? That professor, even if you've only taken one class with him or her, might be a good reference. Look over all of the work that you have submitted. Consider the papers with which you are particularly proud.

What feedback did faculty provide? Considering the feedback, do you think this professor might write on your behalf?

What If You Can't Find Three Faculty?
Three recommendation letters can be hard to come by. You might find, for example, that one faculty member knows you really well, another knows you somewhat, and a third not as well.

Graduate schools are familiar with the challenges of online learning but they still expect letters of recommendation that indicate that faculty know who you are, positively evaluate your work, and believe that you are a good candidate for graduate study. Many students who attend online institutions for their undergraduate work find that they can easily obtain a couple of letters but find it hard to identify a third faculty member. In this case consider non-faculty as letter writers. Have you done any work - paid or unpaid - in an area related to your desired field of study? The most helpful letter s are written by knowledgeable professionals in your field who supervise your work. At minimum, identify a supervisor who can write about your work ethic and motivation.

Soliciting letters of recommendation is never easy. Never having met your professors in person makes soliciting letters much harder. Online institutions are more popular than ever and continue to grow in numbers. Graduate admissions committees are gaining experience with applicants from online institutions. They are becoming familiar with the challenges that such students face and increasingly understand the difficulties students experience in obtaining letters of recommendation.

Don't fret. You're not the online one in this predicament. Seek a range of letters that illustrate your competence. Ideally all should be written by faculty, but recognize that it may not be possible. Prepare for the possibility by cultivating relationships with professionals whenever you can. As with all aspects of applying to graduate school, begin early.

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Your Citation
Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "How Do I Get a Letter of Recommendation When I Attend an Online University?" ThoughtCo, May. 2, 2016, Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2016, May 2). How Do I Get a Letter of Recommendation When I Attend an Online University? Retrieved from Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "How Do I Get a Letter of Recommendation When I Attend an Online University?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 19, 2018).