How Important are Recommendation Letters? Article Type: Quick and Dirty
Analogy time! Imagine you are getting ready to go on a blind date and wondering what to wear. Let’s say you are an extraordinarily unattractive person (don’t get mad, it’s just an analogy). So go ahead and reach into your closet and pull out your very best designer clothes. Put ‘em on and check yourself out in the mirror. Nice! But guess what? You are still an extraordinarily unattractive person in a zoot suit.
Now switch gears: say you are an amazingly beautiful person. Say Angelina Jolie calls you for beauty tips. Reach into the same closet, but this time, pull out a stained purple sweat suit with a puffy parrot applique. Now what does the mirror say? OK, sure, you’re still very attractive, but that sweat suit ruins the whole picture.
This is how you can think of letters of rec. A glowing letter — like an Armani suit — will make an attractive applicant more attractive, but put on the parrot, and the beauty factor starts to tank. Similarly, the parrot will make the terrible applicant even more terrible (remember: two wrongs don’t make a right) and even the Armani is just lipstick on a pig.
Now let’s stop pretending and get back to reality: You are the Angelina adviser and it’s important you figure out who can whip up an Armani suit for you. Two rights do make a right.
Waiving Your Right to See the Evaluation
Evaluation forms will usually include a box for you to check, indicating that you waive your right to read the recommendation in the future. Our advice: just check it. If you're really worried that your teacher might write something unflattering about you, then you might actually want to ask somebody else to be your recommender. (And don't be afraid to ask: it's better to straight-up ask a teacher, "will you write me a positive recommendation?" than to just hope for the best and end up with negative comments in your evaluation.)
Anyway, assuming that your recommendations are going to be positive, there's really no reason why you'd ever need or want to read it, anyway. So checking the waiver box will give admission officers confidence that your recommenders are being completely honest, not just saying nice things about you because they're worried that you'll read their words someday.
On that note, make sure that you think long and hard about Who to Ask for Letters or Recommendation, because you want to be sure you get the designer version and not the puffy parrot one. Check out What Makes a Great Letter of Recommendation for some inspiration.