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A gift for future applicants


08Applicant
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Here's what an LOR looks like. Since I've been rejected by my first two choices and most of the remaining schools fell into the category of impossible long shots, I have very little to lose. It's funny now that I was scared to read this. Even though I've had it for 4 months, I didn't want to jinx myself.

 

I tried to remove all the information that might identify me just to be cautious.

 

To Whom It May Concern:

 

Mr. NAME has asked that I write a letter of recommendation on his behalf. I do this with absolutely no reservation. NAME was a student in my econometrics course (Economics COURSE #) during the Winter 2007 term at the SCHOOL. At the time, I was Visiting Professor of Economics on leave from SCHOOL.

 

Economics COURSE # is a second quarter econometrics sequence course covering topics in econometric methods. The first quarter is devoted to linear model regression theory, while the third quarter is devoted to applications and original research. My course began with a high level review of linear model theory using matrix algebra and matrix calculus. This was followed by four weeks of limited dependent variable econometrics (discrete dependent variables, fractional dependent variables, maximum likelihood, minimum chi-square, logit, probit, and other limited dependent variable techniques). The course places an emphasis on theoretical applications in situations involving individual and aggregate data. The second half of the course covered topics in time-series econometrics, including difference equations, ARMA models, seasonality, and Box-Jenkins model fitting. I taught this course at a fairly advanced level and it differed from undergraduate courses I have taught at SCHOOL only in the necessity to introduce or review some mathematics for students lacking a background in matrix calculus or elementary complex analysis, which I touched upon.

 

NAME’s performance of A work in this course was, therefore, stellar. As I recall, his attendance was perfect and I enjoyed speaking with him outside of class. NAME is a nice, earnest young man.

 

I have had the opportunity to review NAME’s GRE scores, undergraduate transcript, and I read his honor’s thesis. First, NAME has excellent scores and grades, especially in critical mathematical areas (e.g. two quarters of real analysis). He has taken a rigorous path as an undergraduate by completing a double major in mathematics and economics and by writing an optional honors thesis.

 

I found NAME’s undergraduate thesis to be both interesting and scholarly. While I did not supervise his thesis work, I think that NAME shows excellent potential for graduate level work. NAME’s thesis first discusses THESIS DESCRIPTION.

 

I have also had the pleasure to be NAME’s employer for the last year. NAME is currently a research assistant at COMPANY in CITY. I am a JOB TITLE in COMPANY DESCRIPTION. My partners and I interviewed NAME and several of my other SCHOOL students for a single research assistant position. NAME was unanimously selected for the position. NAME has been an excellent research assistant and has taken the lead role on several of my projects. This job involves significant empirical skills and close attention to detail. While NAME’s interests may have been more theoretical, he has also now had plenty of experience in real empirical projects involving substantial data collection and econometrics. However, I predict that NAME will go in the direction of academic research, rather than consulting.

 

I have no doubt that NAME will succeed in a top Ph.D. program in economics. He has better preparation than most graduate school applicants and will not have difficulty with the mathematics, statistics, or theoretical economics. He has the interest, determination, and background to become an accomplished research academic and teacher. Again, I recommend NAME without any hesitation.

 

DR. NAME

Professor of Economics

SCHOOL

 

and

 

Visiting Professor of Economics

SCHOOL

 

So feel free to critique it. Is it good/bad? Any code words that might tip off an adcom. The setence in red certainly stood out to me as implying mediocrity. Help future generations to avoid my mistake: wildly overestimating my potential.

 

It was fun while it lasted, kids. Congratulations to everyone that was accepted.

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I know at least 2 of my letters look NOTHING like that, lol.

 

I used 2 math professors, and I didn't show them my grades, GRE scores, didn't tell them ANYTHING about economics etc (even though I have a near 4.0 GPA and an 800). Correction: I remember telling one of them what my statistics were, but not the other.

 

Anyway, I wonder what they wrote.

:D

 

 

 

P.S. Don't lose hope.

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i have no idea what my was in my LORs, but i doubt that any of my recommenders wrote that much. i think what is missing is comparisons to other students. i think adcoms are looking for things like "this is the best student i have had in the past 5 years", or "he achieved the highest (or second highest) grade in a class of 300". basically i think the problem is that he didn't give more info than the adcom would have gotten by reading your transcript by themselves.

also it depends who writes the recommendation. if the guy who wrote it is not well-known then its a really weak recommendation, but if a well-known respected economists writes it then it is worth significantly more. i mean, if a famous professor writes that you "have great potential for graduate work", that will open doors for you. if its someone who no one knows the same phrase will not have much weight.

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Stronger then this???:eek:

I'd say that you need to be next incarnation of Adam Smith to beat that...

 

 

Actually, what sets Adam Smith apart from a modern economist is that he was a philosopher. He had a ton of original ideas (philosophical ideas) and very little of the 4.0 GPA/800Q GRE crap. In fact, Oxford was a shithole in his day!

 

I think I miss those days of economics :( So much of research coming out now is utterly boring..

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So feel free to critique it. Is it good/bad? Any code words that might tip off an adcom. The setence in red certainly stood out to me as implying mediocrity. Help future generations to avoid my mistake: wildly overestimating my potential.

 

The letter you quoted strikes me as reasonably well-written. The writer gives detail to establish why they can make a recommendation about your preparation and research potential and then says clearly and without reservation that you "will succeed in a top Ph.D. program in economics". While "better preparation than most" might not sound like a strong statement, you're being compared to graduate students in economics, not undergraduates in general.

 

I don't think a careful reader would construe this as a weak recommendation, but perhaps it would sound that way to someone plowing through a stack of applications. Something of the form "among the top x% of students I've taught" might have worked better, especially if the writer led with it up front. The length of the letter might also work against you, because someone in a hurry might be tempted to skim after encountering that long description of your metrics course.

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Ok, it's not for Adam Smith, but still it's VERY positive.

but, i think you have to realize that there is recommendation inflation nowadays. so every recommender writes that the student he is writing for is wonderful and brilliant etc. thats why the adcom is looking for something more than that. today a "positive" letter is meaningless because everyone gets them. nowadays you need a lot more than "positive".

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As far as I can tell, that is a really solid LOR. Did you apply to pretty top notch programs? If so, then this has probably been the problem, as top programs can be highly random since there are so many solid applicants fighting for (relatively) few spots. I wouldn't worry myself if I were you, as it sounds like you'll have a good chance at going somewhere for your PhD.
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lol, that's a great rec letter. One of my recs is kinda lukewarm... he said only good things, but at some point he was like "although XXX is not as flashy as some of our undergraduate.....(blah blah) he is a really hard worker blah blah"....

 

I have another rec letter though that is so good that I started laughing when I read it.

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today a "positive" letter is meaningless because everyone gets them. nowadays you need a lot more than "positive".

 

or a LOR from someone who has reputation to lose.

 

lexicographic ordering: among the people who can give you very positive LOR choose the most reputable one. :)

 

Perhaps the letter can mention about past students from your school who did well is top schools.

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This letter is very serious and thus presents you as a very serious applicant and it's positive. But it sounds a bit dry to me. Did you just deleted the names of your thesis and other works? Plugging just names is not specific enough, you need to say what precisely is so cool about your thesis.

Then, there is also subjective side--"without reservation" is not as strong as "i highly recommend" or "strongly recommend" according to me. But on the other hand, if the prof knows you only from one course even if he says something stronger it may sound unauthoritative to an experienced rec reader. According to other people it may be ok.

In any case you should not feel down--there are so many other factors, randomness inclusive! It's part of life/experience, right?

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I gotta be honest, this post has me really worried that I won't get in anywhere next cycle when I apply. I highly doubt any of my LORs will be this good (well, maybe my best one will be similar). I plan on applying to 3 schools in the 10 - 20 range, 6 in the 20 - 30 range, and another 3 in the 30 - 50 range.

 

08Applicant, is your profile already posted as well as which schools have rejected you? If not, is there anyway you can send me the info?

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to speak the truth, I find his letter lukeworm. It has very nice things written but somehow it seems very standard and lacking personal touch beyond listing a few verifiable achievements of the applicant.
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In the spirit of sharing, this is one of mine. Actually, the only one I have access to.

I don't know how good it is though. Some of the stuff there is personal but I cannot take it out. Hope it won't come back to haunt me.

 

Dear Admissions Committee:

 

I write to recommend My name for the Ph.D. program in economics at School. From September 2003 to April 2004, My name worked as my Research Assistant at X University. I came to know her quite well during that period and during the past several years since then. By way of background, I am an Associate Professor at X, having obtained my Ph.D. from X. My research interests are predominantly in marketing, and include product line length as a marketing instrument, product positioning decisions, competition in distribution channels, and optimal advertising strategies. My research involves developing econometric models of consumer and firm behavior to help marketing managers make better decisions.

 

I first met My name when she was recommended to me by Professor, who taught in the Economics Department at X. My name had worked as his summer research assistant, and he told me that she was one of the brightest students he had worked with in his years at X. Although My name was interested in development economics, she took the opportunity to work in marketing to broaden her horizons and for the potential applications that working with me might have toward her future research. My contacts with My name when she worked for me, and my observations of her personal and academic growth since, have shown her to be one of the most outstanding students I have encountered in my academic career. Since birth, My name has struggled with a number of severe physical disabilities. Despite possessing severely impaired vision, hearing, and mobility, however, she has managed to persevere and, due to her exceptional will power, to succeed academically.

While still a high school student in her native country, My name’s stellar academic performance made national news. Although the Bulgarian state did not allow her to apply to university due to her disabilities, her academic achievements enabled her to obtain a full scholarship to attend X as an undergraduate. While at X, health problems in her freshman year at first had a negative impact on her studies and on her grades. Rather than give up, however, My name applied herself and managed to spectacularly improve her academic performance over the next three years. In her last two years as an undergraduate, she decided she wanted to be an economist and took a challenging course load in both economics and mathematics in order to gain the necessary background and qualifications to apply to the Ph.D. program. This course load included classes in advanced econometrics, in the economics of international financial markets, in development macroeconomics, and in monetary economics.

In her final year at X, My name also authored an outstanding honors thesis on central bank privatization in Eastern Europe, which in scope and in the rigorousness of the models she attempted to employ may ultimately have been better suited for a doctoral dissertation. In this thesis, My name tried to demonstrate how banks that were privatized to foreign investors exhibited superior performance to those sold to domestic owners. Her underlying thesis was that foreign knowledge, coupled with tight credit control, would decrease overheads and the share of nonperforming loans, as well as attract more sound clients with novel approaches. Initially, My name had difficulties finding suitable data to carry out her study, since no comprehensive dataset existed. However, she persevered and went back to seek her data in primary sources. She requested balance sheets from the banks themselves as she researched the financial success of these financial institutions. In the course of doing her research, she contacted more than two hundred banks on her own to determine the history of their ownership structures, surely a mark of her persistence and dedication to research. For her efforts, My name was awarded the Departmental Award for Excellence in Economic Research at X. In addition, she was invited to present her findings at the X Conference.

While employed by me, My name worked on a project that tried to demonstrate the effects of advertising on brand equity. It was while we worked together that I found My name to repeatedly reveal characteristics that would make her a successful graduate student. First, My name demonstrated that she had exceptional research skills, coupled with the ability to do creative research. While working for me, she showed a knack for generating original ideas that was unmatched by any other undergraduate student with whom I have worked. For instance, in order to better demonstrate the effects of advertising on brand equity, My name had to survey recent cases of new product to explain the market forecasting strategies companies used. In the course of her research, My name poured over hundreds of marketing reports in an effort to show how, in sectors where many brands for identical products exist and marketers target a specific segment of consumers for their product in order to differentiate it from the rest.

In addition to her research skills, I believe My name would also be a successful graduate student because of her intelligence. While working for me, My name was able to process information more quickly and able to think more analytically about the tasks I gave her than most other students I have worked with at X, including even some of current my Ph.D. students at X. Equally importantly, My name possesses a phenomenal work ethic. Although she is by nature very shy, below the surface she has a hard-working personality and a thirst for perfection. For instance, she often took to finishing her at home, and she managed to incorporate several new cases of product launching strategies into our final research paper even after her assistantship with me was officially over. Most importantly, however, I believe My name will be a successful graduate student because she displays real passion for the research process and unmistakable persistence in achieving her goals.

 

My close personal interactions with My name make me confident that she will be successful in X’s graduate program in economics. My name badly wants to be an economist and a researcher. She has worked hard to acquire the quantitative and analytical skills that it takes to succeed in graduate school and as a professional economist thereafter. I have not met a student at X whom I would recommend more highly, or with more enthusiasm, to you.

 

If you should have any follow up questions, or if I can provide you with more information about My name , please feel free to contact me. I would be happy to speak with you by phone or to answer further inquiries by email.

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  • 3 years later...

All,

 

From what I can tell letters are about the only thing that distinguishes a candidate. We all have ample mathematics, perfect or close-to-perfect grades and scores, some research experience. Being that adcoms barely read SOPs in economics, it's up to letter writers to convey exceptional promise, drive, creativity, etc.

 

That said, I think the first letter is good and solid, though not stand-out. I would chalk it up to a lack of writing skills and personality on the part of the writer (which is not uncommon in the discipline). The second letter is very personal, which is good. I assume (for my sake, at least hopefully) that conveying a personal relationship with a student raises the credibility of everything said and also signals dedication of the student (i.e. did more in college than fulfill a list of minimum requirements for graduate school and write a couple sufficient papers).

 

I'm banking almost completely on my letters, being that I don't have measure theory etc. Judging from the vitriol and bitterness from posters whom had extraordinary math and didn't get into dream schools, letters seem to be the ticket.

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Nothing would be different. You would still be stressing out over how the adcoms would interpret every sentence, instead of about what the letter says. You're just switching one stress for another.

 

This was more in reference to the OP, then Humanomics. I wasn't stressing out about the quality of the letters and the effect on admissions. I was just really curious to know what my professors would say about me.

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I also waived my right to see them, which I think was the right thing to do. A gift dropped into my lap the other day, though. I'm really good friends with the dept. secretary and one of my LOR writers had the secretary help him send the letter out to the schools I'm applying to so the secretary was able to assure me I had a great letter from that prof. It always pays off to be on the good side of the dept. secretary.
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