Many applicants recently have asked about the “ideal” combination of recommendation letters. There is no real ideal combination, it really depends on the applicant; however let me elaborate a bit on the subject.
Recommendation letters should come from one of two sources: academic or professional. In other words, from individuals who have supervised you in the classroom or in the work place. “Work place” is a broad term. The work place could include internships, volunteer work, or paid full-time work. Sometimes unpaid work is much more in alignment with an applicant’s goals and if you are choosing to do something and not get paid for it, this shows a great deal of dedication and commitment.
Since SIPA is a professional school it makes sense that we would like to see at least one professional letter of recommendation. The only combination we really do not recommend is three academic letters of recommendation. An applicant that submits three academic letters is basically telling us that there is no one from the professional world that can comment on their ability and qualifications for graduate school.
Beyond this advice, any combination will do. If you have been out of school for several years, do not feel compelled to go back and get a letter of recommendation from a professor who did not really know you or that you have not been in contact with. We would much rather receive letters from those that know you and that you have been in contact with in some capacity. If you had fabulous relationships with a few professors two letters of recommendation from professors is fine.
It is really up to you. When it comes down to it what we are really looking for is a letter than not only addresses your character, but that addresses you potential to succeed in our program. This is best accomplished in examples. When you talk with those writing letters for you, please tell them to include examples of your competence. It is one thing to say that someone is smart and capable; it is another to provide solid examples of intelligence and ability in the work place or in the classroom. Be sure that you speak with those writing letters on your behalf and clarify this point.