One friend told me that I should order the referees by the (estimated) strength of their letters. She believes it makes a difference since the admission committee would start reading letters in the order you entered the contact information for the referees (i.e. the order you request their letters in the application portal), and the first letter they read determines their first impression of you. As a result, the recommendation from your "first recommender" is more important in the same sense as the first paragraph of your research statement is more important.

I wonder if that is true. In fact, the person whom I listed as the "first recommender" is not the one who would give me the strongest letter. Should I remove her and start over to make sure that my strongest letter will be the first one to be read?

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    There is too much variation in local application-portal systems for the order of recommenders to matter. For example, an applicant's files might be displayed in alphabetical order of filename(!). Commented Nov 29, 2022 at 0:05

1 Answer 1


I have been in an admission committee for a master program for years now, and I don't think that that matters. The thing to remember is that we see large amounts of applications, so we quickly scan through all of the materials and make a choice. I know that that is disheartening, that all the material you painfully collected will be only be looked at for no more than a minute or two, but such is life. Given the short amount of time afforded to each application, the order makes no difference. Letters of recommendation are not so much read, but quickly scanned: How does the recommender know the recommended, what key (code) words are used to describe the recommended.

If you want to maximize your chances, then make it easy to find the relevant information in your application. For example, don't use filler sentences with no real meaning, use the rule one paragraph one message, follow the guidelines for applying to that institution. Also read your application carefully before sending it away. You would be surprised by the number of application that tell that the candidate would be honored to be accepted by the university of Tiejerksteradeel, while they were actually applying to the university of Hardewijk...

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    In case you are wondering: neither university (currently) exists, the latter is a reference to a children's program from my youth (Dutch persons can now make a good guess of my age...) Commented Nov 28, 2022 at 12:40

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