We've been breaking down the grad school application process, step by step, for the past few weeks. This week, we'll talk about letters of recommendation: What they are, who should write them, and what they should talk about.
Letters of recommendation deserve just as much attention as any other part of your application, for two very important reasons: They come from an outside perspective and speak about you in the third person. This gives them more weight. Letters of recommendation allow admissions officers to corroborate your academic story, be appraised of any personality traits you may not have mentioned throughout the rest of your application, and learn of any other qualifications (positive or negative) that you may bring to the table.
However, because recommendation letters (and recommenders) are also almost completely out of your control, you need to be aware of exactly what you can control, and how you can control it best.