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In most of the universities in the USA/Canada, they want 3 letters of recommendation (LOR). I am curious to know do the admission committee reads or reviews all 3 LORs equally or do they give more precedence to the recommendation of the first recommender and the least precedence to the last one.

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    How would they know which was first or last? If anything, they will give more weight to letter writers that they know.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 6, 2023 at 17:45
  • @JonCuster Thanks for your comment. I think that's easy. In the application, we mention the names and emails one after another. For example, if we first enter the details of Prof X, then Prof Y, and finally Prof Z. Then, the committee might give Prof X more precedence than Prof Z. This is what I meant. I wanted to know if is this how it works or they consider all of those LORs equally. Nov 6, 2023 at 18:23
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    You are overthinking this and assuming that everyone will follow some standardized rigorous process of reviewing your application. Particularly if someone has screened them and perhaps even nicely printed out materials for decision makers to review at their leisure.
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 6, 2023 at 18:45
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    You have the wrong impression in general of how admissions works. They do NOT read each item, give a score, add up the scores, and admit the person with the highest number. Instead, they read each application, get a subjective impression of you as an applicant from your entire application, and compare their subjective impressions of applicants with each other, trying to correct for their own unconscious biases if they can. Nov 6, 2023 at 21:35

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No, they aren't all the same, but it depends on what they say, not the order they are listed or received.

The best letters will come from people who say they have worked closely with you in some way, perhaps supervising a project; research even better, but rare. They will also confidently predict your success.

Lesser letters will be those that say something like they had you in class (or classes) and you did well, but don't put their own reputation on the line with a prediction.

Everything in between.

If a letter like the first above is from a prominent person in the field you intend to study, even better, but not so much for the second sort of letter.

Also, sending fewer than the expected number is a red-flag in most cases.

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  • If two strong research LORs and missed one, does it still count a red-flag? Does submitting more LORs (if allowed) have a better chance for admission? Nov 6, 2023 at 20:32
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    @JustTryToGraduate: one missing letter may result in your application listed as "incomplete" and may not be looked at (at least, this is how it works in my university). Nov 6, 2023 at 22:15
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    @JustTryToGraduate Many of the websites write that if you submit extra, the reviewers may stop after the first 3 they read, so just send your best 3. Also, many of the sites don't allow a fourth letter to be submitted. Good luck! Nov 9, 2023 at 6:37
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    Also, having research professor "rare" is field dependent, in physics it is really important to come into grad school having done research already. Nov 9, 2023 at 6:39
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    Agreed, @DavidRaveh, it depends on the field (and country) enormously. In Biomedical Sciences in the US, if you don't have a letter from two research opportunities (i.e., from a lab at your undergrad and a SURF/REU or the post-bac or industry work you did after undergrad), you're making up ground on all the other applicants. Because the NIH funds undergrad research opportunities heavily, expectations for it are high.
    – GenesRus
    Nov 9, 2023 at 19:34

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