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Choosing A Reference - A Solid But Old Academic Or Current Volunteer?

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Hi everyone


I'm immensely unsure who to select as my second reference and I know this section carries considerable weight for interviews and offers. My first referee is my supervisor in a health care setting, where she's known me for two years and seen me progress from a Hospital Patient Attendant to a licensed and practicing PSW, and i feel confident she could write great things about my professional and personal qualities. 


For the final reference, I've got two referees to choose between, both with strengths and weaknesses in the sense of how they know me and how current the reference would be. 


Referee "A" was a professor I knew well in two advanced 4th year courses, I scored top marks in my class for one of them, doing very well in both. However this was roughly 3 years ago. The following is an excerpt from a reference letter she wrote for me previously. 


"Overall, (Name) was a very motivated, rigorous, conscientious and hard working student. During

both courses (Name) has been one of the most engaged students, asking questions and

participating in class discussions. He appears as a mature person with good work ethics. He is

also very enthusiastic and good-natured, and seems to be a very active and involved person,

interested in various things."


She also mentions a fair bit how I led the class in discussions and also demonstrated leadership in project groups. 


Referee "B" is my volunteer supervisor at Habitat for Humanity, where I volunteer primarily. We have a solid professional relationship  from my two years working there. I know he could speak to my dependability, adaptability, maturity, attitudes towards society etc. Most of what i do is help collect donations of furniture or building supplies by loading it onto trucks to be re-sold to help fund build projects for the unfortunate (which i participated in on a few occasions). I know I'm closer to this referee than Referee "A", and also this referee is much more current since it's been 3 years since I've met with Referee "A". 


I guess what it boils down to is whether a previous, but more academically oriented person would be more or less desirable as a referee than a current volunteer supervisor who knows me more and routinely sees what I do. I get that sense that MUN favors well-rounded applicants, which I hope I am, but I know on the website they indicate preference for academic referees.


I promise in my writing I don't mean to sound self-absorbed or boastful (I really hate writing about myself haha), i just mean to try and draw out whatever qualities i think MUN would see on my application. Any advice is very very much appreciated as it will be my first application to MUN. I can provide more background info on me or my references if that would help too. Thank you!


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They really don't make it easy to choose by limiting you to two references.  I think in the end many applicants narrow their potential writers down to a top candidate in each of the realms of academics, ECs, and work/previous professional experience, then pick two of three.  You want your two writers to paint the picture of someone who is both empathetic and compassionate enough to take care of a sick human, but also possessing the academic endurance and intellect to be able to deal with the firehose of information that is medical education.


I agree with Bambi in that if you are completely set on your first letter, then your second, by default, needs to be the academic reference. However, I would consider taking the risk and using the Habitat for Humanity supervisor as your first reference (in place of the healthcare supervisor).  I think it will add an interesting dimension to your application, highlight some unique qualities, and emphasize your long term commitment to their program.  Furthermore, the application system will allow you to highlight your employment history, so the fact you have progressed and been promoted in that sphere will not be overlooked. 


I had a similar dilemma several years ago when I applied to MUN.  I applied twice, was waitlisted initially and was successful the second time.  I really feel that, although I improved my academic credentials in the second cycle, the biggest difference was that I made sure that my "non-academic reference" was more personal.  In my case that meant going with a volunteer reference that had less credentials, but who I felt could paint a better picture of my personality and what made me me.  Obviously you'll have to decide which two of three paint the most ideal picture of you, but in my case it was definitely worth the risk!


Best of luck! :) 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks everyone for your responses, especially The Mist. Actually, after long thought, I decided to go with your suggestion, since I think they can glean the relevant info about my employment through my application, while my volunteer supervisor can comment more thoroughly on the stuff that perhaps counts more ie. compassion esp with poverty. Thanks a lot, wish me luck! Take care and have a relaxing weekend too!

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