Advisors can become references as long as they can attest to your ability to achieve, your work ethic and your perseverance.
Getting advice and finding information is an important part of the graduate school application process and you will want to get input on your professional direction from many different people. You may even find a mentor, a professor or professional in your discipline or field of study who provides valuable feedback and pushes you to find out more. These people can become important references when you begin the application process itself.
Most graduate programs ask for two to three recommendations and these can come from professors with whom you’ve taken classes and sometimes from professionals with whom you have worked, depending on the kind of degree program to which you are applying. Informal advisors or mentors who advise you over a period of time can also be excellent references. Knowing that you will need to include two to three recommendations with your graduate application may prompt you to reach out and begin to cultivate relationships with people who can provide you with a great deal of knowledge and help. You should begin early on in your search for graduate school programs to think about who might be able to provide you with recommendations but you should also think strategically about what any given graduate program will want to know. If you are applying for an academic science degree, a recommendation from the person who supervised your internship in a Washington, D.C. nonprofit might not be a good choice. But if you are applying instead for a Masters in Public Policy, that same supervisor might be just the right person to talk about your skill set and the talents your bring to the public policy profession. The committee reviewing your application for a Masters in biology would be more interested in a letter from a professor in the biological sciences who has evidence about the kinds of skills you will bring to a scholarly setting from classwork or a research project .