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Sample Poor Letter of Recommendation

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Letters of recommendation are critical to your graduate school application, and later on you'll find that they are essential parts of your application to internships, post docs, and faculty positions. Take care in requesting your recommendation letter because not all letters are helpful. Pay attention to signs that the professor is reluctant to write on your behalf. A mediocre or even neutral letter will not help your application and will even hurt it. What is an example of a poor letter? See below.

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A Sample Poor Letter of Recommendation:
Dear Admissions Committee:   

It is my pleasure to write on behalf of Lethargic Student, who has applied for admission at XY University. I am Lethargic's advisor and have known her for nearly four years, since she was a freshman. In Fall, Lethargic will be a senior. She has had a variety of courses in psychological development, clinical psychology, and research methods that will aid her progress as a social work student. She has performed very well in her course work, as evidenced by her 2.94 GPA. I’ve been very impressed with Lethargic because she is a very hard worker, intelligent, and compassionate.  

In closing, I recommend Lethargic Student for admission to XY University. She’s bright, motivated, and has strength of character. If you would like to learn more about Lethargic, please feel free to contact me at (xxx) xxx-xxxx or email xxx@xxx.edu  

Sincerely,
Passionate Prof

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Why is this letter mediocre? There are no details. The faculty member clearly knows the student only as an advisor and has never had her in class. Moreover the letter discuses only material that's evident in her transcript. You want a letter that goes beyond listing the courses you've taken and your grades. Seek letters from professors who have had you in class or supervised your research or applied activities. An advisor who has no other contact with you is not a good choice because he or she cannot write about your work and cannot offer examples that illustrate your competencies and your aptitude for graduate work.

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