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The Importance of LORs


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I just was wondering, from what everybody's heard, how important are the LORs? I mean, once you pass the GPA and GRE cutoff points, do they then concentrate on your LORs and research interests. Also, how important is it that the LORs come from professors who taught in the discipline?

The reason I ask is because I have 3 terrific recommendations, but not from political scientists (the discipline I plan to enter). All 3 are law school professors who also hold PhD's and in the past held tenured positions in other fields (2 historians and an economist). They all spent time talking me into applying to PhD programs, and I'm fairly confident that all of them gave me recommendations that are about as good as a recommendation can be. I believe some within the political science community know them through their publications.

This is especially important to me because my GPA is low (3.4), and for some of the programs I'm applying to, very low. I also transferred 3 times as an undergrad (financial problems, not grades), and didn't end up graduating from a top 50 school. My GRE scores are good enough (high Q, V is nothing to brag about), I have a J.D. and some research experience as an RA for a law school professor and through a law school fellowship, so I'm hoping my LORs can help overshadow my UGPA. If anybody has any program specific info, here are the schools I'm applying to:





Illinois - Chicago




UC - Riverside

Yeah, I know my apps are all over the place on the reputation meter, but these are the schools that have professors I want to work with and I'm utterly confused as to how much my GPA is going to affect the strength of my application. Also, I do realize that the applications are already complete and that there's nothing I can do about it now, but like everybody else, I'm freaking out (probably due to all the posts I've read on this board).

ONE MORE QUESTION that is totally unrelated (I'm too lazy to start another thread):

At one of the schools I've applied to, the professor I wanted to work with (and is the only professor specifically mentioned in my SOP) has decided to take a position at another school. I still would like to go to the school, but I don't know how to handle this situation. Should I email the graduate director and tell him why I still would like to go to the school, or should I lay off the caffeine (and this website), grab a beer and try to chill out for the next couple of months?

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Look, you letters will help. That they are from Law profs not pol sci profs is ok: you were in law school, they'll understand. If the letters explain why they are so super duper eager for you to become a political scientist, it's fine.

Regarding your other question -- the Prof you mentioned who moved -- that is a complex problem. I would NOT contact anyone. Don't draw any more attention to it. Either your statement made it seem that this and only this Prof. is why you would "fit" in their program, or it did not. If it did communicate this, you have a problem that cannot be fixed. Don't draw more attention to it. They know you didn't know he would move.

If your statement singled out this prof, but there are others at the school that could naturally also supervise you, I would not worry to much. It's a problem, and it could hurt your chances. On the other hand: he is GONE. Were you just naming him strategically?

These things happen. That is why it is better not to name anyone UNLESS YOU ARE SURE THEY ARE STAYING. True, you can never really know. Welcome to the wide world of risk, aka, life.

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Re: LORs, I think you'll be okay. The most important factor is how good the letter is, not the prof's specialty and so on. If they all raved about how great you are and how they have all these good reasons for you to go to grad school in political science, it will be fine. They taught you most recently, so they can best vouch for your current level of scholarship.

For your SOP and the prof who moved, I wouldn't contact them. Yeah, it might mess with your chances to get in, if you only talked about his/her research. But if you mentioned a more general area that you're into and listed Prof. X as an example of someone working in that field, the adcom can go, "Well, Prof. X left, but Profs Y. and Z. still work in this area. Prof. Z, read this guy's application and see what you think." In my SOPs I tried to always mention more than one professor in case of problems like this. One school that interviewed me wrote to tell me that TWO profs I talked about in my SOP would be unable to meet with me, aren't taking students, have left the program, whatever. They still wanted to interview me; they just asked me to pick some more faculty members I'd like to talk to.

Random: I went to Brandeis for undergrad, so if you have any questions about the school in general or living in the area, I'm happy to talk about it. I'm a science person but have good friends who majored in poli sci there.

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I was also at Brandeis as an undergraduate, but in the Politics Department.

With whom do you want to study?

As for your LORs, it seems to me that the most important thing about them is that the recommenders made clear that you are fully capable of doing advanced graduate work and that you will be an asset to the department. I cannot see why the departments to which you're applying would automatically judge law school professors as less qualified to assess your ability.

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I wouldn't worry about the LORs, you should be fine. And I'd do nothing about the prof that's leaving situation. Maybe he's leaving and he'll decide to take you with him, maybe there's others who could advise you at that school, etc. Good luck and try not to panic!

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Thanks for the advise everybody. I woke up today and was about to email the Grad Director, but the consensus reached that I should not contact him convinced me not to.

At Brandeis, I'm interested in working with Jytte Klausen. I actually don't know anything about Brandeis that doesn't relate to its poli sci program, its location, or its history (the whole Einstein U problem). So if there is something I should know about the professor or the school, your info would be appreciated.

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The problem with my personal statement was bothering me so much, I couldn't just let it go. I decided to email the Graduate Director and ask him questions about the program while subtely slipping in the fact that the professor named in my personal statement is not at the program. Our email exchange was productive, and I feel it helped. It was a risk, but I figured it was a risk that needed to be taken.

By the way, if anybody who reads this applies to a political science PhD program in the future, do mention the methodology by which you wish to conduct your research and not just your substantive interests. I've now talked to 3 Grad Directors who discussed the importance of explicitly stating your methodological goals in the SoP.

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