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Author Topic: freaking out about lor's...advice please  (Read 1387 times)

cascagrossa

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freaking out about lor's...advice please
« on: December 01, 2004, 08:34:38 AM »
ok, so im stuck in a bad situation thanks to my sub 3.0 gpa.  bad gpa = very few solid A's. obviously im not going to ask a prof for a rec if i got a b- in the class, so that limits me to very few choices.  of those A's, most were in huge lecture classes where i basically went to class 3 times during the quarter to take the exams.  yea i got A's, but theres no way the prof even knows my name.  i never planned on going on to any graduate school and i didnt have the need to for other reasons, so ive never gone to any office hours. 

turns out that the one prof i could have gotten a good rec from no longer teaches here and doesnt even live in the country anymore, and i have no way to track him down.  so i have this other econ prof that i thought i would ask.  got a 94 on my 20 page term paper, sat in the front row and never missed a lecture, and ended with an A- in her class which is notorious for hard grading.  so i asked her and she responded by saying she didnt remember anything and the letter would be "at best mediocre."  so that option is screwed as well, and i really have no idea what to do.

is a letter from a TA acceptable?  is it acceptable even at the top schools?  is it ok to have only these two recs: 1 academic rec from a TA and one from an employer?  im just nervous because ive seen some schools that strongly recommend 2 academic letters(im thinking they want them from professors as well) for those applicants who are still in undergrad, and theres no way i could get even 1 decent letter from a prof, let alone two.

thanks for any advice.

cascagrossa

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2004, 01:12:31 PM »
step 2 is not a viable option.  i am not going to ask a prof for a lor if i didnt do well in his/her class.  i do not want a letter that is even the slightest bit negative, and i just dont see any way a letter from any of those profs would be helpful.  what am i supposed to say? "hi, you dont even know my name, i skipped your class often, never went to office hours, and did poorly on your exams.  but heres a cool paper i wrote and a resume, please write a lor for me."

the other profs who taught the classes where i did well were all huge lecture classes where i never even sat within 100 feet of the professor, never said a word to them, the ta's graded the exams, etc.  so how could they write a letter?

my only hope was this one prof but she shut me down.

i guess my main question is whether or not its ok to have my only academic rec coming from a TA?

HKrustofsky

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #2 on: December 02, 2004, 01:28:36 PM »
Professors with huge classes are accustomed to requests from students they never met. True, the letter will not be exceptional but in a bind, appraoch the professor with samples of your work for the class, resume, and maybe personal statement. My strongest LOR for grad school came from a prof that gave me a "B" (not even B+). If you are confident a TA would write a more personal and glowing letter then according to AdComs in Montauk's book, the TA would be the better option.

soupnazi

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #3 on: December 02, 2004, 04:50:19 PM »
man, I'm in almost an identical situation. My GPA was below a 2.5, so my options are very limited.  I do have a prof that I took two classes from and got an A- in both.  Both classes involved a 10-15 page research paper.  Was hoping that he could give me a lor that said I wrote two good research papers.  I hinted that if he could just emphasize this, that would be enough.  He agreed to write me one, but now that I need to get him the materials, he hasn't returned the two emails I sent him in the last week.  I'm hoping that he'll get back to me soon.  My other LOR is from a former employer who went to Harvard Law (no longer practicing though), and I'm pretty sure it's going to be a good letter.  I'm just hoping the prof's will be neutral at best (assuming I can actually get him to write it).  Like you, I don't have many other options so I'm just hoping this works.  I think if you choose to go with the TA, you should add an addendum stating how the TA knew you better and had a better ability to judge your skills, etc.

nikazu

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #4 on: December 02, 2004, 04:59:48 PM »
A letter of rec from a TA is not in itself bad, but it probably won't look good if the letter is not also accompanied by one from a professor. As far as strong letters of rec go, it really doesn't matter what good the recommender writes if he/she doesn't know you well, since whatever they write will typically be vague at best ("he asked lots of good questions," "wrote a good paper," "performed well in class," etc.); and adcomms can tell when your letter writers don't know you very well outside of what they see in the classroom. In your case, if the person who knows your academic work best is a TA, then that's all you have and you need to take advantage of that.

I don't mean to dampen your hopes, but - though not entirely irreparable - there's not much you can do about your situation now as far as letters of rec go, especially since it's so late in the game - without, anyway, sticking around for another year and really getting to know some profs. Right now I'd just focus on writing a smokin' PS.

Best of luck to you.
Ding: None yet
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Mos

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2004, 10:07:47 PM »
I can't speak for the adcomms, but I think a more personal and enthusiastic letter from a TA looks better than a lacklusters one from a professor. I've been out of undergrad for almost five years, so it was really hard for me to obtain an academic letter to compliment the letter I already have from my employer. I sent out emails to the two people whom I thought would still remember me since I did exceptionally well in their classes even though it was a long time ago: one was a professor who not too long ago left my undergrad to teach at Harvard, and another one was a TA who taught me back in sophomore year and is now a post-doc doing research at BU Medical School. On paper, the professor's letter would look so much better just because she's a professor and that she teaches at Harvard now. However, it took her forever to get back to me despite my repeated but sincere emails, and the response I finally got was rather cold. The TA, on the other hand, replied to my email immediately and had the letter done within a week. He even showed me the basic outline of the letter and it was incredibly well-written. So I'm definitely going with his letter and ditching that professor altogether. I'm not sure if the adcomms will hold this against me just because my letter came from a TA rather than a professor, but I'm really thankful that my TA wrote this wonderful letter just for me and am pround to include it in my application.

JMac42

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2004, 03:58:06 PM »
I think Mos basically has the attitude that parallels adcomms.

I don't know how good the book Law School Confidential is, but they interviewed Richard Geiger, Dean of Admissions at Cornell.  Here's what he said:

"The thing that helps us most -- especially for applicants who are current students or recent students is a recommendation from a faculty member who taught you, who knows your work well, and who has seen you in as many different circumstances as possible.  And by faculty member, I mean that broadly.  It doesn't mean it has to be a chaired professor; it could be a teaching assistant.  But keep in mind, I also said someone who knows you and your work well.  So your teacher from you large intro biology course is probably not going to be able to say anything too meaningful about your work.  Ideally, your recommendations would come from a TA or faculty member in an upper-level class, seminar, or some other setting that was conducive to that person actually having the chance to get to know you and your work well.  So pick that person, and don't pay any attention to what the person's title is.  Pay attention to what they know about you and your work.  Now, having said that, it does help to have the recommender be able to draw comparisons between you and other students he or she has taught, so the very best recommenders are those who have taught lots of students and can speak about you from that perspective versus someone who is teaching their first seminar and can only tell us that you were the best student out of the twenty that he had in class that semester.  The larger the sample, the better."

Good luck on your LORs, Cascagrossa!

bhvexille

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2004, 04:00:00 PM »
I just gave generic LOR forms to 6 professors who gave me A's

Princeton review gave me this book on ls admissions at the end of the course, and in it they have interviews with admissions at gw, boalt, duke, and a couple other schools..  One of the general messages was that LORs don't have much of an impact on your admissions prospects

cascagrossa

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2004, 10:50:22 PM »
thanks for all the input guys.  im just going to go ahead and submit 1 letter from a TA and 1 from an employer.  the letter from the TA is going to be 100x better than a letter from any prof would be, so i guess its not really that big of a deal.

kristay

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Re: freaking out about lor's...advice please
« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2004, 11:30:47 PM »
Some professors that teach large lecture classes will ask you to ask the TA you had for that class to write you a recommendation and then will write their own letter based on this recommendation.  "That way you get the cultural capital of a professor with the enthusiasm of the person who actually knows your work" (<--quote taken from an e-mail from one of my professors).  I've heard this is not entirely uncommon...at least it's not uncommon at my undergrad. 

I asked one professor and one TA for a recommendation.  The professor actually knew me fairly well on a personal level, but not so much on an academic level (b/c the two classes that I took with him were large lecture classes...he didn't really teach small classes b/c he was really popular and his classes always filled up quickly) and asked me to ask my TA to write a rec and put it in his box.  I also asked a TA for a LOR and he gave me the same advice (that he would write a letter for me and I could ask one of the professors that he had TAed for when I had him).