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rejectedndejected

What do PhD Programs *Really* Want in LORs?

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To start a much-needed thread (in hopes of shedding some light on an aspect of humanities graduate admissions that is truly mysterious): What, in the name of all that is good and decent, are grad programs/ad-comms really looking for in letters of recommendation?  Almost all letters surely sound pretty similar right?  What sets some letters apart?  What makes others bad?

If anyone has any expertise/experience in this area, please enlighten us--but everyone feel free to opine.

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They are learning for specifics. Yes, LORs for the most part are all similar. However, if your letter writer is saying you are a deeply invested and go above and beyond, they are giving an example of how exactly. Maybe they provide a short description of where you took initiative and created a small project from data they already had and created a poster to present at a conference. The letter isn't just "this person is great and smart." A good letter pulls specific attributes you possess that would make you a successful graduate student or whatever the letter is for, and they provide specific examples to illustrate their points. 

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10 hours ago, PsyDGrad90 said:

They are learning for specifics. Yes, LORs for the most part are all similar. However, if your letter writer is saying you are a deeply invested and go above and beyond, they are giving an example of how exactly. Maybe they provide a short description of where you took initiative and created a small project from data they already had and created a poster to present at a conference. The letter isn't just "this person is great and smart." A good letter pulls specific attributes you possess that would make you a successful graduate student or whatever the letter is for, and they provide specific examples to illustrate their points. 

Thanks for the thoughtful response.  Although, I think your insights likely pertain more to the sciences than to the humanities.  In humanities, isn't analytical prowess concern number 1?  Anyone have any thoughts about what makes a good humanities LOR?

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The concept is still the same, regardless of discipline. The point of the LOR is for the writer to highlight some of your positive attributes that would make you successful in the program/job/whatever the letter is for by providing specific examples that illustrate how you possess that attribute. What sets good letters apart is the writer's ability to clearly demonstrate how you as an individual possess these qualities. A bad letter is typically from someone who will just write a shallow letter without actually giving examples or show anything about how it is to professionally interact with you in a positive manner. 

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