Before you can earn a master’s in civil engineering, one of the highest paying master’s degree programs, you will have to submit an entire application package to get into graduate school. Your letters of recommendation make up a significant part of your application package. Graduate school admissions teams put a good deal of weight on favorable recommendations that speak to the technical skills, personal qualities and experience that would make you a good fit for their program. Of course, these recommendations need to be from someone who is familiar with your abilities as they relate to civil engineering, like a college professor or a supervisor.
Civil Engineering Professors
A compelling letter of recommendation from a former civil engineering professor speaks volumes. In fact, some master’s in civil engineering programs require at least one of a prospective student’s letters of recommendation to be from a former engineering instructor. The reason professors are the preferred writers of letters of recommendation is because they are the ones best suited to speak to your academic aptitude.
Ultimately, a graduate program in civil engineering, whether professional or research-focused in nature, is still an academic endeavor. A convincing letter from a professor with whom you worked closely during your undergraduate engineering studies will show the admissions team that you’re not only a competent employee but also a student with intellectual curiosity and innovative ideas.
Assuming your undergraduate background is in civil engineering, you will definitely want to choose a civil engineering professor to ask for a letter of recommendation. You should also select an instructor with whom you have a good rapport. If the engineering instructor you ask for a letter of recommendation doesn’t know you well enough to speak to your talents in a specific way, any vague recommendation they write for you will be less than effective.
Although you could ask a professor of another discipline of engineering for a letter of recommendation, their words may not carry as much weight because the capacity in which they knew you is less relevant. The exception is if you are coming from a different undergraduate major. If you majored in another branch of engineering, the professor who knew you best may not be a civil engineering instructor at all. Similarly, if your background is in math or science, rather than engineering, you will likely want a letter of recommendation from a professor in an applied field who can speak to your strengths in math and science.
Prospective graduate students who have been out of school for many years may not be in touch with their college professors, and those instructors may no longer be the best people to speak to the applicants’ skills. In that case, schools may prefer letters from professional, not academic, contacts.
Engineering Supervisors and Project Managers
If you choose to gain some work experience before applying to graduate school, the people supervising your work are some of the best to attest to your skills. A letter of recommendation submitted on official company letterhead can certainly impress the admissions team, especially if your supervisor is able to highlight the specifics of your work accomplishments and what you personally have brought to the team.
Supervisors are often willing to write letters of recommendation to graduate school programs on behalf of their best workers, especially when there is room for advancement within the company. If you’re going to ask a manager or another colleague to write you a letter of recommendation, it may be valuable to first discuss with that person why you want to go to graduate school and what your career plans are. The people who can best write you a letter of recommendation are likely to be supportive of your plans and aspirations and may even be able to address, in their letter to the admissions team, why they believe you would excel in the degree program and your intended career path.
If you came up with the solution to a problem, found a way to improve productivity or efficiency, took on leadership responsibilities or otherwise stood out in your work, these are details that can make you a more appealing candidate for admissions into a graduate degree program.
Civil Engineering Internship Supervisors
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If you’re applying to graduate schools immediately following your undergraduate education, you may not have full-time work experience. However, you could still highlight your professional accomplishments by asking internship supervisors for a letter of recommendation. Most engineering students complete some sort of internship or other hands-on experience as they work toward their degree, whether to gain some hands-on job training, network with established engineers or just earn college credit or some extra spending money.
An internship is a lot shorter in duration than a long-term full-time job, and it may emphasize educational training over the professional responsibilities required of you when hired for a permanent job. However, the work you do as an intern gives your supervisor valuable insight into what would make you a good candidate for a graduate degree. In some ways, an internship supervisor is able to assess both your academic and professional aptitudes, making this person an excellent choice to ask for a letter of recommendation to graduate school.
People other than former teachers and supervisors in civil engineering may not be as qualified to speak to your relevant capabilities. You may, however, opt to ask for a recommendation from a leader of extracurricular activities, especially engineering-focused ones.