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Writing sample not from recommender


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I have a writing sample that I feel pretty confident about, however I think that it may have a major weakness: I did not write it under the supervision of any of my three recommenders.


Unfortunately none of the papers I wrote in their classes are as strong as the writing sample I would like to chose. There are different reasons for that - in one class I only wrote a preliminary draft that would require a lot of editing, in another one I only wrote a critical response paper and in the third one there was no paper assignment.


I could ask the professor in whose class I wrote the writing sample to write me a recommendation - I am pretty sure that he would write me a detailed and positive one. However there is a 'strategic' reason that I chose these three. I have a very good relationship with two of them and think that they would like me excellent letters, and the third one is an economist who would be able to speak about my quantitative/econ skills.


What do you think? Does it make a bad impression if your writing sample doesn't come from your recommender?

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I honestly doubt most places would noticed.  From what I've gathered some places weigh writing samples more heavily than others, some places weigh LoRs more heavily than others - and these are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  


Most important: Your letters should be written by people who know you well and can speak to your ability to succeed in grad school and contribute to the discipline (though in some cases your recommenders may come from outside the discipline).  
The "weight" of the recommender does come into play sometimes.  For example if you are applying to program where one of your recommenders has friends/coauthors/etc or used to teach there, that can be helpful if the adcom knows or has heard of the person.  However, you are pretty much always better off with a detailed letter from an unheard-of someone who knows you than a generic form letter from a "top dog" who taught you in a large intro class and barely knew you.  
Similarly the experience of the recommender can also give it more (or less) weight with the adcom, if the recommender has been teaching at an R1 for twenty years and says you are among the best students he/she has ever taught, that is more substantial than someone who is three years out of grad school saying you are "among the best..." etc, etc.
= if you hunt around on this forum you'll see that advice almost word for word from our "resident faculty", I'd find the link myself but i'm lazy/should realistically be working on other things and the information itself is there.  I heard similar advice myself from an almost-top-dog" who is also a DGS.  

These are really the things they'll be looking at, and adcoms usually realize you might be choosing your recommenders on any of the above criteria.  I doubt anyone will say "well, gee, none of the recommenders specifically mentioned the writing sample, he must have had a terrible relationship with that instructor."  


Presumably, you are trying to showcase your best qualifications, the writing sample, to some degree, speaks on behalf of that instructor for how well you did in the class.  In other words, you don't really need the professor to tell them what an amazing, insightful, paper you wrote, because they'll have the opportunity to read your amazing paper for themselves.


Finally, if you are really losing sleep over it, many schools (not all) will allow you to submit more than three letters.  

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Thank you so much! This was very helpful.


I think I will stick to this writing sample and whenever possible upload more than three letters.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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I doubt anyone will care about your writing sample at all, but they definitely won't care who you was teaching you when you wrote it. As for letters, I'd really suggest limiting them to 3. 

Why do you suggest limiting LORs to three?

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I think the committee will only read 3, so choosing which three letters they read increases your chances that they're good letters. Also, most schools only let you submit 3.

Thanks for the reply.

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