Big names at big schools

<p>So one of my friends is currently applying to a multitude of schools. As of now, his top choice is Harvard. As I was talking to him about it, he told me about how he will be getting a letter of recommendation from someone with heavy political weight.</p>

<p>He is closely connected to an alumnus of Harvard. It actually turns out that the alumnus is a U.S. ambassador of a big country (I forget which country he said). The ambassador knows many political figures such as Hilary Clinton, and many others. The ambassador also has a classmate (of Harvard) who works in admissions/has close connection admissions for Harvard. Because my friend is closely connected to this ambassador, he was able to get a letter of recommendation from him, and apparently, the ambassador will talk to his friend who works at Harvard admissions to see if anything can be done.</p>

<p>He told me about a conversation he had with the ambassador, and he said it went very well (I guess it was like a mini phone interview, but more like a tea-time conversation), and that he was going to write a well written, very sincere letter of recommendation.</p>

<p>I know that Harvard is Harvard, and to get in is nearly impossible regardless of the connections one has, but do you think he would be able to get in with the aid of this letter?</p>

<p>I will try and give you a little bit more context. My friend has a truly unique life story. I mean, seriously unique, as it is filled with much hardship. He had me proof read his essay, and I was literally crying when I read it. He has a fairly good high school career grade record, and has participated in some really prestigious programs. He is a QuestBridge National College Match finalist, and a Telluride Association alumnus. However, he did tell me that because of a glitch with his computer/Common App website, there were a few errors in his essay and supplement.</p>

<p>My main question is, do you think knowing a high up political figure - like an ambassador - will help much in the admissions process? I know knowing a mayor, or a state rep. may help, but I mean come ambassador? Obviously the student has to be qualified - and he is or else the ambassador wouldn't recommend him - but do you think this could really help him? I am very curious about these admissions and how so many factors are taken into consideration.</p>

<p>Definitely… </p>

<p>How so?</p>

<p>It is not uncommon for many people in that position to never say no, and appear to be cooperating, but in fact, they have their own code. A famous example is a gentleman who is often approached for recommendations to HY or P - he will write a letter of recommendation for anyone, but he has a code that admissions knows. If he refers to the applicant as Miss Jones or Mr Smith, it means he doesn’t really know the applicant and is doing this as a courtesy. If he refers to them as Janet or Keith, they are a personal friend being given a high recommendation. Apparently this is not uncommon, as you don’t want to make people mad by outright refusing, so people in high places have ways of appearing to be helpful, while just going through the motions.</p>

<p>Completely understandable. However, from the sound of it, the letter of recommendation isn’t like any other he has written. It was truly heart felt, and it voiced my friend as being a very unique case. The general feel of it was “I have rarely seen anyone as passionate, mature, and goal oriented as he is.”</p>

<p>I think his life story and essays will have a heck of a lot more impact.</p>

<p>His interaction with the ambassador seemingly is based on a phone interview, not knowing the person in detail over many years. So it is just a cursory knowledge. No one will put their reputation on the line based on a phone interview, and will more likely be a “I spoke with him on the phone, seems really strong, would be a great addition to Harvard”. That is very different from “I have known him since he was 10 and have seen how he has developed, etc and so forth”.</p>

<p>Remember, that even the son of the Chief of Staff for the POTUS couldn’t get into Stanford and it wasn’t until Kevin Spacey intervened and pulled in the big money recommendations that he got in.</p>

<p>Do you think that having a really powerful life story reflected in his essay will really have an impact? I know these schools also have a high academic standard to get in, but do you think they also value powerful life stories? He has SAT scores in the mid 1800’s, and an okay GPA, but that was because he had to work every day after school for eight hours to pay for the medication and therapy fees for his suicidal father.</p>

<p>I don’t mean to turn this into a chance thread, but I would hope at least that these schools would also value those who have struggled in their lives, and have learned something truly valuable about life. I read a snipit of the recommendation letter, and it really does sound as though the ambassador really cares about him. The ambassador has known of him since he was a young kid.</p>

<p>Of course the essay will have a big impact, if it’s really as good as you say it is.</p>

<p>It is not about you knowing the big names, it is about how much those big names know about you.</p>

<p>The rec letter will be seen for what it is: one advocate’s extremely limited opinion on a nice kid. However, a fresh out of school, first year teacher’s heart felt and sincere observations of the student, over time and in many contexts will be 5000 times more useful to any admissions officer worth his or her salt. </p>

<p>“I have rarely seen anyone as passionate, mature, and goal oriented as he is.” is what will be written. But how so? Was this kid employed by the ambassador? What was the basis for this statement other than the ambassador’s kindness?</p>

<p>The LOR is about the student, not the writer. Unless this student PERSONALLY was supervised by the ambassador, it’ll be frankly worthless. While it’s understandable that your friend is straw grasping if he’s going for schools like H, in reality this is a non-factor. He’s better off looking for that teacher who really respects his school work. Not some celebrity with a H connection. His story and his own journey is much more meaningful than this name-dropping.</p>

<p>Geez, with that strategy, I should be reeling in my politically connected friends to pawn off my own daughter for a few hours to entice them to write LORs. Heck I even crushed on a lady who’s now the US Ambassador to the UN and schmoozed with the most famous CNN host (on every night) in our French 150 class.</p>

<p>Thank you all for the responses. This whole process really baffles me with so many factors. </p>

<p>Maybe I’m thinking about it in a singular dimension, but I just can’t imagine a really powerful, heartfelt letter of recommendation written by a former US ambassador won’t have powerful weight. I guess we’ll just have to see.</p>



<p>I suppose if you had schmoozed with a lady who’s now the US Ambassador to the UN and crushed on the most famous CNN host (on every night) in your French 150 class - there’d be no daughter to talk about, but you’d be the secret son-il-law of one of America’s most famous families.</p>

<p>Just think of the many connected people trying to get friends and family into Harvard. They see these letters all the time and take it for what it is worth, as one piece of paper in the application package. I think you read too much into it. It sounds like your friend is over reaching with this SAT and okay grades, whatever that means. Sure, all the top colleges are looking for a high achieving student with a hardship background and quite a few will get into them. Hopefully he has applied to a good sample of the Questbridge partner or other colleges. So you will tell us if his strategy works. Let us know, it is always interesting to hear results</p>

<p>*Just as an update, my friend got into Harvard and got a personal letter from the dean of admissions, congratulating him on his accomplishments, in spite of his challenges. </p>

<p>I can’t express how happy I am for him! He also got into Yale, Brown, and Dartmouth. I guess this just shows that although many people think they need perfect stats to get into a school, as long as you are a person who can add something different to the mix, the admission committee will see something in your application.</p>