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My student has given me a recommendation letter form for the studies he is applying for, and the form has a part where I should simply "tick" the options. For example: Maturity, Motivation, etc. I can check these fields with "Exceptional", "Excellent", "Very Good", "Good", and so on...

When I think of it, I really want to tick all these fields as "Exceptional", because this student is my best student, he has been the top student in his class for all the courses I have taught and he is one of the best students I have known throughout the, at least, past 10 years. Do you believe that checking ALL the fields as "Exceptional" would look very bad to the admissions committee? I do not want to ruin his chances by my recommendation letter.

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    It seems to me that readers will look to see whether the text of the letter backs up your description of the student as "exceptional", giving specific evidence where applicable. – Nate Eldredge Jan 18 '15 at 17:32
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    Unfortunately, the problem with these types of ready forms is that there is not much space to give an extremely detailed description for each of those fields that are needed to be ticked. – wovehiyi Jan 18 '15 at 21:51
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    Really? Every time I've filled out such a form, there is a text box to paste in a full letter of recommendation. – Nate Eldredge Jan 18 '15 at 22:30
  • Yes, there is a box. But I find it to be very small to give detailed and specific descriptions of all the aspects ticked. – wovehiyi Jan 18 '15 at 22:33
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There is nothing wrong with checking "exceptional" for every question. Working on graduate admissions, this is not uncommon. Of course, be sure that the student really is exceptional in every area. While he may be brilliant, is he really exceptional at writing skills, oral expression, self-confidence, etc.? I actually have a more positive response if a trait has a slightly lower rating, so I know that thought has gone into the ratings, although I don't recommend doing this if the candidate truly is exceptional in every way.

If the recommendation form truly does not allow you to attach a letter, use the space to say (as you do above) that the student is one of the # best you have worked with in the past 10 years. If you have more space, comparisons to other students are helpful, for example, "X is one of the top 3 students I have encountered in the past ten years. The other two went on to top PhD programs, where they have both flourished. The one who has graduated is doing a post-doc at Y, and the other is making good progress to her degree."

You can also send a letter even if one is not requested. I don't see how it could hurt (unless you had something negative to say).

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    I just reviewed applications to our program, and about a third of the recommendations had all of the "exceptional" boxes checked. After rolling my eyes down the column, I just plain rolled my eyes. I really have trouble believing that a one-semester math professor, for example, knows that someone has exceptional writing ability, public speaking ability, self-confidence, creativity, etc. – Ellen Spertus Feb 11 '15 at 19:50

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