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DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

How do you get an academic reference...when you have been out of university for ages? (Details)

Asked by DarlingRhadamanthus (11205 points ) June 28th, 2012

At some point, I want to go back to grad school. One of the biggest stumbling blocks (that I foresee as I look at applications) is getting an academic reference from someone that can vouch for my ability to “be viable academically”. This would mean obtaining a reference from someone who taught me before (yes?). I have an advanced degree already, but because I went into graduate school right after my B.A., it’s been a long while (decades). My professors were old at the time (three or four are deceased now.) Even if they weren’t, I doubt that any would remember me or my work. I was a good student (3.9) but certainly not particularly memorable. Trust me. I can’t even remember who all my professors were anyway!

Honestly, I think the only people who still remember my academic viability are some of my high school teachers…and that’s because I came from a small town where everyone knows everyone else. I was a gifted student (whatever that means)and I still get stopped by some of them in the produce section when I am visiting my family. That, however, does not wash in upper academia. Not when you are…well….older than Sarah Jessica Parker, but younger than Madonna.

I would appreciate any information/ideas/help….or perhaps how you dealt with the need for academic references when faced with this issue after being out of university/academia for years?

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10 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

I think you need to look elsewhere. “Academic Viability ” means the ability to perform well in completing course work. An employer can attest to that.

I would face the same problem if I wanted to go to grad school, and so would lots of people that go back to school later in life.

Why not call an admissions counselor at the school and speak to them? They are there to give you guidance.

DarlingRhadamanthus's avatar

@zenvelo….I am going to do that anyway. I was just wondering how others dealt with this topic and also…wanted to ask the question for anyone else who might be in the same situation. I don’t think that an employer can actually attest for “academic viability”. If that were so, then, an employer reference would suffice..and they don’t want that. They want someone who knows that you can do “academic work” i.e. an instructor/teacher…unfortunately.

Lurve coming…and many thanks for answering!

Bill1939's avatar

I think it would be helpful if you found an advisor in your field of interest and shared with them the work you completed to get your advanced degree. They would also be interested in knowing what you been reading that shows you have been keeping abreast in the field in which you would like a degree.

annewilliams5's avatar

I’d stay in the sectors that you are in now. @zenvelo I think you are correct. There has to be someone, that you know now, that is academically capable of giving a reference.

wundayatta's avatar

I think you have much too narrow an understanding of academia. Anyone you have written or researched for can attest to your “academic viability.” Indeed, anyone you have done any thinking for can do the same.

If you have not done any writing or research or thinking in the last few decades, then you probably do not really want to go to grad school, anyway.

Shoot! You could even point to some of your posts on fluther as examples of how you think and write. Obviously, they are in a more informal style, but I’m sure some of yours have been carefully thought out. Surely one, anyway? So you could ask someone here for a reference (not me, though—someone who might agree with you).

In case you think I’m bullshitting you, remember, I work in academia. I see these recommendations. I’m looking for things that really give me a sense of how you work and think. I am not interested in people blowing smoke. Therefore real proof matters more than vague platitudes. You would not believe some of the recommendations I have seen. Clearly, people are stretching.

The best recommendations come from people who clearly know the person they are recommending. A recommendation from thirty years ago is just plain nonsense. I wouldn’t even bother. Ask someone who really knows you (and likes you, preferably) who can describe you and offer real, relevant, current examples to make their case.

nikipedia's avatar

Can you take some courses at a community college, or as a non-matriculating student at a nearby university?

bolwerk's avatar

Concur with @nikipedia. Also, at least one reference from work, especially if it’s relevant, ought to be good. I know someone who works at a shipping company who got into an ivy league MPH program based at least in part on a reference from a coworker who was an accounts manager. A stellar essay no doubt tipped the scales in her favor, and I think essays are getting a lot of weight these days. Her BA was psychology, and she had a little medical research experience immediately after college, but the past decade of her work life was completely unrelated.

Kayak8's avatar

With an undergraduate and an advanced degree, you are in a very different position than someone with no collegiate education or only an undergrad. The focus on academic ability is demonstrated by your existing degrees. I agree with the above to call the school (as you indicated you already planned to do). As a non-traditional (older than Sarah Jessica Parker) student, most schools use a different yardstick if you have been out in the work world.

WestRiverrat's avatar

There are some programs that accept work experience in lieu of academic experience. When my mom went back for her masters in nursing they accepted her 20+ years as a trauma/ER nurse as qualifying as academic experience.

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