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Question about outside rec letters

ivanov2014ivanov2014 Registered User Posts: 305 Member
edited December 2013 in College Admissions
First of all, I have a pretty specific story about my rec letters, so if you don't feel like reading all of it, then please just answer this - how important are recommendation letters from people other than your teacher and counselor (like a research mentor), and can they actually have an impact on the decision at top schools like MIT?
Now, my actual story. This summer, I contacted a professor at University of Michigan, and he gave me a pretty interesting assignment - I had to research asteroid movement (and by that, I mean all the math that goes into calculating the exact position - it's a lot more difficult that you'd imagine), and then I had to write a computer program that would calculate planetary position based on some input parameters (orbital elements), and display an animation of these planets and asteroids and predict any close encounters in the future. I've put a ton of work into this program, and I'm actually still working on it, and the professor is going to use it to teach his graduate class once I'm done. Of course, I've included this project in my app and even submitted the program through SlideRoom to several colleges, like MIT and Harvard. My question is - do you guys think it's a good idea to ask the professor for a rec letter? He's a really busy guy (like most college profs, I'm assuming) and on top of that, he doesn't really know me that well - we've communicated mainly through email, and it was mostly just me explaining my progress. However, he does know that I've put a ton of work into this project and that I'm *pretty good* at comp sci. So, would his rec letter add anything to my app, and is it worth bothering him? Or is it possible that he'll just write a really generic one that'll actually hurt my chances?
Thanks for any responses, even if you didn't read the whole story - any feedback is greatly appreciated.
Post edited by ivanov2014 on

Replies to: Question about outside rec letters

  • ivanov2014ivanov2014 Registered User Posts: 305 Member
    Bump... You don't even have to read the whole thing, just answer the question at the beginning!
  • dodgersmomdodgersmom Registered User Posts: 7,311 Senior Member
    ^^^ None of the above is in any way relevant for a high school student applying to college . . . but, oh well. :(

    ivanov - With regard to MIT (or any other college), what matters is that particular school’s policy on additional letters of recommendation . . . some welcome additional letters, others discourage applicants from sending them, and still others will flat out tell you not to do it.

    So, go back to MIT’s website and see what they want. If they don’t want additional letters, then don’t send it. If they’re willing to read additional letters, then I’d suggest contacting him and asking if he’d feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for you. Make clear that the letter he’d be writing is not required - that it would just be a supplement to your application, so he shouldn’t feel like he’s obligated to do it. If he’d like to, you’d appreciate it, but it’s really not necessary. I’m guessing he’d only agree to do it if he really had something to say - otherwise, why bother?
  • ivanov2014ivanov2014 Registered User Posts: 305 Member
    Thanks a ton to both of you, I honestly thought the thread was already dead... @dodgersmom - all the schools I'm applying to allow and "welcome" supplemental rec letters, but it's obviously difficult to find genuine info from the admission officers themselves. The general message seems to be that you should include an outside rec letter, as long as it;s not just repeating everything that your teachers or GC already said. Of course, there's no way I can know what's written in these letters - I waived my rights - but I do think that there's a lot of new stuff the professor could say - not sure whether he will or not. My main concern is, is there any way it could actually hurt my application? For example, if the letter is really generic and just says that I'm a hard-working and smart student?
  • dodgersmomdodgersmom Registered User Posts: 7,311 Senior Member
    No, if he agrees to do it and then opts for the generic form letter, it won’t hurt you. All you can do is your best to select people you believe know you and are interested in you . . . but the adcoms know you have no control over the outcome.

    And just because you waived your rights doesn’t mean you can’t see the letters. It means the college won’t show you the letters, but if the person writing the rec asks you if you want to see it, you can certainly say yes! (And, no, you aren’t breaking any “rules” by looking at the letter. The waiver is intended to protect the recommender’s privacy - so if he or she makes the offer, there’s no problem at all.)
  • ivanov2014ivanov2014 Registered User Posts: 305 Member
    @dodgersmom - Thanks I actually didn't know that! I thought we weren't allowed to see the letters at all, so that we can't pick the good ones. But yeah, I'll just go ahead and ask him, at least to describe the project and my contribution to it. Hopefully, he will offer me to read it, just so I'm not worried about the contents.
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