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"Rank the student"


ohgoodness
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Hey y'all,

I'm wondering whether anyone can provide some insight into the ranking of students ability, academic promise, motivation etc that reference givers need to fill out for some schools?

I'm at a European University, albeit with plenty of American-trained Professors, and one of my references, a senior professor trained at Chicago (Sociology), asked me to help out with submitting the reference letter. She got very nervous regarding these questions and postponed submitting until she was sure about how they were read by universities. Her worry was that there is a strong inflation in these rankings to the point where all students get the "top 2% /exceptional" designation without much thought put in to it.

So does anyone know about the status of this? Does it actually matter and should one be careful with the rankings to mitigate any potential "oh she's just trying to get her student in" suspicioun

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I've had a similar discussion with one of my recommenders once as well (also at a European university).

What we ultimately thought was the best solution was to either not fill in anything or tick the highest possible value, and then explain in the actual letter that (i) my recommender didn't think comparisons on that high a level were meaningful (top 2, 5 or 10 percent would all be within 'measurement error' of each other), (ii) our education system gave no quantitative data on which to objectively answer such questions (e.g. the university doesn't collect any data about how one is ranked within their class / year), (iii) while they couldn't say if I was in the top 2, 5, or 10 percent, my recommender held my abilities in the highest regard possible.

Not sure if this is the smartest way to go about it, but it was the most sensible thing we could think of.

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Ugh, I just had a referee talk to me about this. She's actually American, so there wasn't even a cultural barrier. She expressed that the top category seemed extreme, and even the second from the top was pretty intense, (I think the categories were like 'top 1%' and 'top 5%'). She said she put me in top 10% for most things, but that now she was feeling guilty that she might have inadvertently diminished me by putting me in the third category from the top if there's referee inflation going on. She already submitted the rec, so I'm not sure why she told me this (perhaps confessional?), but needless to say, it ratcheted up my anxiety. Anyhow, she let me see the actual letter she wrote for me, and it was very glowing, so I hope I won't be denied just because a supervisor of mine does not think I am within the top 1% of people she had ever met in her life. It remains to be seen.

Edited by ridofme
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Graduate school applications in the US are a lot less of a numbers game than undergraduate in the US. GRE scores, GPA, and the like are all about not raising red flags and being filtered out than they are about rising to the top. These rankings are probably not much different. You use the numbers to validate your application. You use the narrative of your recommendation letters, your personal statement, your writing samples, your research experience and publication record to actually get in.

I doubt the kind of inflation that makes a difference goes on. The professors doing the rankings and reading the rankings are part of a small community. If someone seriously inflates their rankings, it will get noticed. It's not worth their reputation with their peers, especially for a student who needs inflating. Whether it's top 1% or top 10%, what's being said (and not said) in the letter is going to be telling the reviewing professors the real story.

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I would agree that rankings are important for universities to gauge applicants against their peers, but I've also had recommenders question it. I've found that oftentimes anecdotes that describe the student's abilities are much more beneficial than the simple numbers. Or use the anecdote to support the class ranking.

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I think that smmmu's approach is a good one in this case. The rankings can be important, but mostly in a sort of comparative sense - e.g., if the professor ranks you lower on one of the categories, it is *much* better the that category be something like "congeniality" than that it be something like "research potential." Most candidates do end with the majority of their ratings within the top 20%... anything lower is a bit of a red flag, but they are such a small portion of the overall application and other things, like the actual letter, matter much more.

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I don't think that LOR writers have much incentive to "inflate" their rankings. In fact, I think there is disincentive -- if they rank you lower than your actual ability, there is no harm to them. But if they say you are a great student and then you arrive at grad school and don't live up to it, then the LOR writer's reputation is damaged. So I do not think that many students will be rated in the "top 1%" category. I think if someone is ticked off as "top 1%" in everything, then the rest of the application better back it up. Admission committees aren't just going to go by those numbers -- they will check everything else for correlation. Of course, being "top 1%" in the eyes of a junior faculty member also means a different thing than "top 1%" for someone who has supervised tens of students.

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