Importance of Recommendation Letters?

Hi all!

I’m an HS senior in the process of applying to schools in the T20 schools for government/political science. Without getting too deep into my stats, I’m a competitive applicant with a 4.3 weighted GPA with several political internships and am ranked as one of the top debaters in the US. I plan on applying test optional (I took the ACT once and earned a 31). My essays are compelling, as well.

With this in mind, how important are recommendation letters from teachers? I requested letters from my AP Gov & AP English Lang teachers, as well as my debate coach, and two of the teachers called me one of the best students they’ve ever taught. If you’re wondering how I know this, they let me read the letters recently.

Does this weigh very heavily in the admissions process, or will admissions officers simply nod and move on?

Thanks for your insights! :smiley:

Google Common Data Set and look at section C7 to see what items are used for admission and the weight they each receive.

You have the highest recommendation letter a student can get and you’re submitting a strong application with them. I would not worry about it beyond that. You did your part and what the colleges do with the letters is beyond your control.

Listen to the podcast on the importance of LoR’s here.

In separate conversation with senior AO’s at Yale, they stressed how they provide a third party view of candidates which can speak to the applicant’s ability to contribute to the academic and social community. Implied was they realize essays can be gamed.

Why do you ask? are you trying to figure out how likely you are to get offers (so this is a back-door ‘chance me’)? Is your UW GPA competitive?

Taking Cornell (b/c you reference it several times in other posts), they list something like 7 or 8 factors that they consider “very important”. LoRs are just one: course rigor, GPA, ECs, essays, etc. So, yes, it matters but no it’s probably not decisive on its own.

A 4.3 weighted GPA could have come from an unweighted GPA of 3.3 or even lower, depending on the weighting system. Colleges which are realistic for applicants at that GPA level probably have considerable differentiation between applicants from basic academic stats, so recommendations and other subjectively graded aspects probably matter mainly at the borderline zone of academic stats.

Within that constraint, recommendations are hard to determine and compare with those of other applicants from outside the college’s admission office. A significant variable that you do not know is the quality of the recommender.

Thanks for your insights! I didn’t intend this to be a back door “chance me” – I was genuinely just curious as to whether admissions officers will just nod and move on, or if these great letters could be something really interesting that sets me over the top.

As for my UW GPA, it’s a 3.84 I believe. So, yes, I think it qualifies as competitive.

That’s the black box of admissions- nobody can know when a phrase in your essay or a sentence in an LoR or an unusual EC combo is the thing that catches an AO’s eye long enough to get them to slow down and really focus on you.

IME (but at grad school level, not UG, and the metrics are different), the LoR confirms / augments the rest of the application, and a weak LoR hurts more than all but an exceptional LoR helps. Also, what makes an ‘exceptional’ LoR isn’t necessarily the level of gushing- a really good one has specifics that relate well to what you are looking for in a prospective student. But again- that’s at grad level, where there is more to go on in terms of relevant background.

Hi, I was able to look at the section C7, but what is considered the most important and very important since it is not labeled.

Were you looking at the generic blank CDS form? You need to look at the completed CDS that each individual school posts on its website. For example, Cornell’s 2019-2020 CDS indicates that it considers academic rigor, GPA, recommendations and several other factors “very important,” class rank is “important,” interviews are “considered,” and so forth. Other schools may weigh these factors differently and will indicate their importance on their own CDS.