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Author Topic: What makes a great LOR?  (Read 2309 times)

meggo

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What makes a great LOR?
« on: July 04, 2008, 04:35:02 PM »
I have contacted several profs who know me well and who I feel could write good LOR's for me, all of whom have agreed. Of course, being accommodating, they ask if there is anything in particular I would like them to highlight. I figure this is an issue that a lot of people have come across - what do you say to prof's when they ask you this? Obviously, I'm not talking about dictating a letter to them, but what should I want them to focus on to make their LOR's as helpful as possible? As per The Main Events recommendation in another thread, I know how I would like one LOR to support my applications, but the other is a prof who's class I did very well in, I interacted a lot with her in class as it was quite small, but not outside of the classroom. I think she could talk about my leadership in the class (as I was one of only 2 or 3 people who talked regularly when she asked a question) or my passion for the subject (which is also my major) - is that good enough? I'm not meaning this thread to be directed solely for my benefit - what do everyone think makes a great LOR and can help separate people from the pack? 

olderapplicant

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2008, 10:04:04 PM »
please let me know if you get any great replies outside of this forum!  i am trying to think of things i want my recommenders to focus on - key items that i think the admissions committee will find interesting/helpful, etc.  but just getting stuck.  what are the important things they are looking for in an applicant - and how can that be best expressed given my personal experiences and character.

meggo

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2008, 05:06:20 PM »
I'm going to bump this again. Anyone?  ???

PaleForce

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2008, 05:17:32 PM »
I have contacted several profs who know me well and who I feel could write good LOR's for me, all of whom have agreed. Of course, being accommodating, they ask if there is anything in particular I would like them to highlight. I figure this is an issue that a lot of people have come across - what do you say to prof's when they ask you this? Obviously, I'm not talking about dictating a letter to them, but what should I want them to focus on to make their LOR's as helpful as possible? As per The Main Events recommendation in another thread, I know how I would like one LOR to support my applications, but the other is a prof who's class I did very well in, I interacted a lot with her in class as it was quite small, but not outside of the classroom. I think she could talk about my leadership in the class (as I was one of only 2 or 3 people who talked regularly when she asked a question) or my passion for the subject (which is also my major) - is that good enough? I'm not meaning this thread to be directed solely for my benefit - what do everyone think makes a great LOR and can help separate people from the pack? 

I would think that if they could write a LOR speaks to your qualities that are the same as those that make for good law students, backs up the rest of your application with specifics, and is really well written.  Other than that, it's hard to say what exactly does it.  It makes me wonder just how much stock adcomms put in LORs.  I mean, you're not going to ask someone who would speak to your faults, which means the vast majority of all applicants would have at least two glowing recommendations.  Although, I have heard of people being sandbagged by a recommender.  Interesting question, meggo ;)

meggo

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2008, 09:53:13 PM »
yeah, i think it can be hard when you are putting an application together and putting it together in pieces, to have an overall view but I think some of the most successful applications, or the ones who perhaps were splitters or aiming above where their numbers dictate, having a application that is strong in all it's parts and as the sum of it's parts, is vital. So I'm trying to have an idea of what I want my overall picture/application to be and how my LOR can add and strengthen my overall app. I agree specifics are great and important to really show a prof knows you. Those were good rec's paleforce, cheers!

flip side

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2008, 09:56:08 AM »
i think in the anna ivey book she said try to have each lor highlight a different aspect of you.  another thought is this:  you know how in your ps you are supposed to "show not tell" by using anecdotes & specific instances?  maybe a similar tactic would work well in an lor to make it more memorable.

for you specifically, i think that having your one prof write a strictly academic-sounding lor is ok, even if the points are ones that adcomm has prob. heard a million times.  if there is anything unique though that the writer can throw in there, it'd seem like it wouldn't hurt.

meggo

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2008, 12:04:57 PM »
cheers flipside. I emailed my prof. and just asked her to be anecdotal if possible and highlight leadership skills and analytical thinking. I also provided for her why I wanted to go into law and specifically how it connected to the course that she taught. She knows me quite well so hopefully that will come across. At the end of the day, of course, it's hard to differentiate one LOR from the next, but ah well. I found this via googling and I thought overall it's pretty helpful. From mather.harvard.edu

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How Many Letters Do I Need? Most law schools ask for two letters of recommendation. Academic letters are preferred. If you are an alumna/us, you should still include at least one academic letter in your application (many alumni/ae ask their managers or coworkers to write the other letter -- see our section on special considerations for alumni/ae applicants).

Students often ask if it is OK to send three letters. The answer is yes -- but only sometimes. Do not send essentially duplicative letters. But if you can get a good letter from someone who knows you from a completely different perspective -- a coach, for example, or a former employer -- then it may be worth submitting three letters. Don't forget that letters of recommendation are out of your control. You don't know for sure what you're submitting. The best you can do is guess from your relationship with your recommenders. Thus the risk associated with sending three letters: two great letters are always better than two great letters and a lukewarm letter.

The fact that you will send two letters does not mean, however, that you should only ask for two letters. If you are fortunate enough to know several great recommenders, consider asking all of them to write you a letter. That way you will have the letters available to use, when and if you decide to use them. Mather House will keep the letters in your House file essentially forever. You can decide later which letters you will actually send to law schools, but you can only pick from the letters that are in your file. The wider the selection you have available at that time, the better! Of course, you should not ask someone to write you a letter if there is no realistic chance that you will use it. But it is perfectly acceptable (and a pretty good strategy) to ask 3-4 plausible recommenders for letters and defer the choice over which to use until later. Think of it as insurance in case one of them doesn't work out, or in case you change your mind about how you want to position yourself in your application, or in case you decide to defer applying to law school for a year or longer. As a general rule, more letters in your file = better.

Whom Should I Ask? First of all, as we've already noted, you should prefer academic recommenders over non-academic recommenders. Law schools want to know about your ability to thrive in an intense academic environment, and they consequently tend to give more weight to academic letters.

Second, you should prefer people who know you well over people who are famous or important. Obviously, if a famous professor also happens to know you well, that's great. But if not, ask a TF or tutor instead. Law schools are not particularly impressed by name-dropping. Send them letters from people who can really describe your work, rather than people who can confirm that you were in their class, or that they gave you an A. The best recommendations typically come from people who can go beyond vague platitudes and offer anecdotal evidence of your superior intelligence, skill, personal character, insight, writing ability, or whatever.

What Should the Letters Emphasize? If your recommender seems amenable to suggestions regarding your letter, consider suggesting that he/she emphasize your analytical skills, leadership ability, ability to "get underneath" the readings, etc. Terms like "analytical skill" can be interpreted broadly -- just about any strong academic work exhibits analytical skills of some kind. The point is simply that law schools believe that legal work is unusually analytical, and consequently they're looking for candidates with strong "analytical skills." It's a good theme to emphasize if you have the chance.

Should Letters be Specific to Law School? Your letters should be specific to law school (i.e., they should explicitly address your qualifications for attending law school). However, they do not need to be addressed to specific schools. Most letters use a general phrase like "Dear Law School Admissions Committee" or "To the Members of the Admissions Committee." Law schools expect this kind of formulation. Be sure your recommenders are clear on this: in the past, some recommenders have been confused by the fact that the envelope is addressed to the Mather House Resident Dean and have mistakenly addressed the letter to the Resident Dean as well.

That said, if you have a letter in your file that you want to use and you cannot contact the recommender to ask him/her to revise it, don't worry too much about it. Mather students in the past have successfully used letters written for fellowship purposes, etc. But if you can, it is always better to ask previous recommenders to revise their letters for law school purposes. Ann Waymire in the Mather Resident Dean's Office will gladly forward a copy of your letter back to your recommender if they lost or misplaced the original.

While the LSAC does allow you to target specific recommendations to specific law schools, we have found that general letters suffice, and that targeted letters often take up more time and result in more delays. If you feel there's a special reason that you should send a targeted letter, talk to your pre-law tutor about it.

How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation. First of all, we suggest that you ask your recommender in person to write a letter for you -- just make an appointment to see her or drop by during her office hours. Asking in person gives your recommender a chance to chat with you about your current goals, and to refresh her memory about you as a person. Approaching the recommender directly also gives her a chance to refuse you. (If the recommender is too busy or feels that she cannot write a strong recommendation for some other reason, it is better to know in advance.) For this reason, be sure to present your request in a way that gives your recommender a gracious way to refuse: e.g., "I know you are really busy these days, but would you consider writing a letter of recommendation for me for law school?" And don't take offense if a professor or a TF says no -- they're actually doing you a favor by admitting that they don't have the time or inclination to write a sufficiently enthusiastic and detailed letter. It is better that they say no than that they write and submit a mediocre letter.

Second, ask early. The earlier the better! Professors and TFs often get overwhelmed with requests for letters of recommendation at the height of the law school application season (which coincides with the fellowship season, etc.). Every year, a few students' applications are delayed because they waited too long to ask for letters of recommendation. Don't let this happen to you!

Third, remember to give the recommender everything he/she needs. This includes at least the following:

            * A signed and completed Waiver Form for both Mather House and LSDAS. These forms are available on your personal page, from LSDAS, and from the Senior Tutor's Office. Your recommender should countersign these forms and return them with his/her letter.
            * Two stamped envelopes, addressed to the Mather Resident Dean's Office and to LSDAS (see below).
            * A packet of other helpful information -- e.g., your resume, a copy of the A paper you wrote for his/her class, a short paragraph describing why you are applying to law school, etc.


flip side

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2008, 05:11:50 PM »
meggo, GREAT find.  i love that, thank you so much!

Gone

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2008, 01:32:10 AM »
Interesting. Not to hijack your thread, but one of the suggestions listed is not to bother with targeted recs. Have people found that to be a good/bad suggestion?
Best of luck to everyone!

meggo

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Re: What makes a great LOR?
« Reply #9 on: July 22, 2008, 01:16:59 PM »
not my thread General Yankee no worries. I thought it might be good to have a thread where we can lump together ideas of what to tell our recommenders of what is good to include.

From my understanding, the general consensus is that the only reason to send targetted LOR's is if the prof is an alumnus and they can attest to the student's interest in the school, or if the recommender can attest to specific skills that a student has that is targetted to a specific school (ie applying to schools with a great immigration clinics and getting a LOR from your prof who taught a Ethnic Migration course)