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"Truly Exceptional"


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Lots of recommendation forms have scales that allow the recommender to rank the recommended from poor to truly exceptional. Truly exceptional generally means top 1-2%.

My assumption about the very top programs (top 10) is that there is a bit of a Laffer Curve situation when it comes to the number of traits on which you're marked as "truly exceptional."

No truly exceptionals is bad because you need to be extraordinary for top programs, but all truly exceptionals is also bad because it suggests BS.

Anyone have any ideas about what the perfect balance might be?

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The honest truth in the eyes of your recommender? It's something they'll want to back up in their letters either way.

If they're going to rank you as truly exceptional, they'll want to discuss how many students they've advised and worked with, and why you stand out as at the top or near the top of that pile.

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Since it's not up to you to write the letters, this one seems like something not worth agonizing over. If I had to guess I'd say I was ranked high but maybe not necessarily "truly exceptional", and I ended up getting into all the schools I applied to. Either way, I have no idea what my letters said; Since I trusted my recommenders, I thought it'd make more sense to worry about the parts of the application that were under my control - the SOP and writing sample - and put my worried energy into that. I think it paid off.

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