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Re: Profile Evaluation
There isn't always a form. And where a numerical ranking is sometimes asked for, the answers are meaningless. I just read over 600 letters. Our system asks for a numerical ranking. I would guess 95 percent put the student in the top 2 percent, which is the highest category.
There are other signals in letters that can be very strong of course. "Best student in the last 30 years" or "We will admit her to our PhD program, but she wants to go elsewhere" or "Would have been in the top of my cohort in graduate school." And the statements can't just be cheaptalk; the recommender also has to say what they've seen to support their conclusion.
This is one reason I suggest that students discuss their application list with recommenders, making it easy for the recommender to signal that the list is too aggressive (or not aiming high enough!) That's a way to really find out where a letter is likely to help you get in.
Three more things follow:
(1) This is why letters should generally be from economists. Economists know what admission committees are looking for.
(2) This one reason why being an RA post-bac can often be an advantage. A letter can make a comparison to other RAs who have gone on to grad school.
(3) This is a reason why students at schools that don't usually send to people to econ PhD programs are disadvantaged. Their recommenders often don't know how to write an effective letter