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4 LORs instead of the required 3?


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I definitely will ask my PI and his collaborator. Both of their names are well known in my subfield and they have both supervised my research.


I have another professor who I took a class with last semester and ended up with >98% in the class and 100 on the final. I did some extra work for him for fun at one point for the class since it was some very math intensive work and he didnt have the background (my undergrad was in math). After completing this, he asked me if he could write one of my grad school letters and I of course agreed. My PI has also mentioned that I definitely need to have him write a letter since he apparently made it clear to my PI that he thinks very highly of me. I agree and think this will be a great letter. As a note though, he is in the same field as I am but very different research area.


I could stop with these 3 but there is a 4th professor who is in the same exact subfield as I am and his name may definitely be known at some of the schools. I ended up with a 99% in his class and contacted him throughout the class, asking for recommendations on papers on topics of interest to me, went to office hours, etc. After taking a long time on one of his quizes, he approached me, asking if I thought the quiz was too difficult for the rest of the class since it took me a while. Based on these experiences, I think that he would also write a very good letter. Also, his reasearch group is close with ours.


Anyone have any advice? Would you include all 4 or choose 3 of the 4? I asked my PI about it and he said that the 4th could either help my application or annoy someone so he wanted to think about it before answering. Id love to get the 4th if it will help my application but dont want to risk being seen as annoying or like I cant follow directions. Any advice?

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Don't do it. Stick to 3. Imagine that your admissions committee consists only of tired, over-worked police officers, one month away from retirement, who are assuredly too old for this shit.*


*this shit = anything outside of the parameters of what you were specifically asked for in the application instructions.

Edited by biisis
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If the directions say "Only submit 3 LORs" then definitely do not do it, and stick with 3.


However, most schools say "3 LORs are required but we will accept up to X". In this case, you might consider submitting the 4th LOR depending on the scenario. Here are some pros and cons:


Con: Profs tell me that they basically read all of the letters and then get an "averaged" or overall impression from you based on the letters. So, if you have 3 great ones and 1 "okay" one (as you only did coursework with the 4th), it could "dilute" your average and hurt you. 


Pros: However, when it comes to LORs, the letter writer matters as well as the letter content. A letter from someone the admission committee knows personally could go a long way, especially since you do have 3 strong research LORs, the "reputation" of your 4th letter writer might make it strong enough to be worth including along with the other 3.


I was in a somewhat similar situation where I had 3 research LORs and one potential LOR from a prof whom I didn't work with but this person knew my academic ability very well. So, what I did was talk to this 4th professor and showed him my list of schools and POIs and asked him whether or not he thinks his letter would work as a 4th LOR at any of these places. In the end, I submitted his LOR as the 4th letter for about half of the schools--only the ones where he regularly collaborated with a number of faculty there, and in one case, a letter to a school where one of his former students was accepted and he thought he could make a favourable comparison of me to this student. 


I ultimately do not know whether or not this 4th LOR made a difference of course. There was no correlation between acceptances/rejections and whether or not this 4th letter was submitted (not a large enough sample size even if there were!). But that's one idea you could consider.

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Thanks for the response guys. I'll add that I don't really think the 4th letter would be generic at all. The professor nominates me for a lot of stuff regularly (like when he chooses 1 student In the department to nominate) and is very familiar with my research and all since his is very similar.

So for the applications that say to submit 3 letters, ill do what you suggest and just submit the 3. Does your advice change at all for applications that say to submit "at least 3." I feel that my LORs will probably will be the strongest part of my application. I've read a couple of them already and they are very long letters and include that I am by far one of the best students they have ever worked with. Ill be making up for a mediocre undergrad transcript so I feel that might need the extra letter if those will basically make my application? Thanks again for the advice!

Edited by bsharpe269
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I asked for an extra LOR and I'm really glad I did.  One of my LOR never got completed because the professor has some of the worst time management skills ever.  I asked him because he was the graduate coordinator of my master's, but if I had stopped there and not gone for my extra I would have had an incomplete file that never got evaluated.

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