Updated on Sep 15, 2021
Letter Of Recommendation (LOR) is one of the many requirements while applying to study at universities abroad whether it maybe for MS, MBA, or PhD. It is one of the significant aspects of application process, which can be a deciding factor for your acceptance in an institutution.
Aspiring students should invest good efforts to get a strong recommendation in order to get into the desired institute. This guide provides a complete overview of what makes a good recommendation letter and how to draft one.
Admission officers at universities have to go through thousands of applications to select the preferred candidates, and a student’s LOR is an important factor in the process.
And here’s the deal:
Letter of recommendations will be of even more significance during the coming academic intakes, as a lot of universities have decided to waive off GRE/GMAT for 2021.
A Letter of Recommendation (LOR) is a document issued by your Professor, Project Guide, or a Reporting Manager with whom you have worked in the past. A Letter of Recommendation is basically drafted by someone credible testifying for your experience, skills, expertise, and achievements.
A well-drafted LOR from a good recommender can help your application stand out among other applicants, as it provides a holistic view of your persona, academic and professional performance.
It helps an Admission Officer to gain a better insight into your profile and decide whether you would be a good fit at the instituition.
Depending on the context and the designation of a recommender, the LORs can be broadly classified into two categories:
An Academic LOR is the one provided by a Professor, Department Head or Dean at your college or university. It presents an account of your academic performance, achievements, and strengths.
Academic recommendation letters are to be issued only on the university or college letterhead.
The Academic LORs are more prominent for those planning to apply for a Masters (MS) program. Generally, universities require 2-3 LORs and an applicant should ensure that each LOR is distinctive yet relevant to the program they are applying for.
Important attributes to mention in an Academic LOR:
Academic performance in a subject
Relevant Projects and Research Work
Co-curricular initiatives and achievements
Specific incidents conveying the expertise or work ethics
Professional recommendation letter is the one provided by former employer, supervisor or reporting manager you have worked with.
Most Business Schools abroad demand a set amount of work experience from the applicants. And so, they require professional LORs to get a better insight into your work and professional skills.
A professional recommendation letter differs from an academic one in the regards that it chiefly revolves around your professional and leadership skills. Also, these are to be issued only on the organization letterhead, duly signed and stamped.
Your recent employer or manager chould help to prepare a recommendation letter that paints an impactful picture of your skills, both technical and managerial, in a unique manner.
Important attributes that you can mention in a Professional LOR:
Areas of expertise
Specific work incidents highlighting your strengths
Now that you know about Letter of Recommendation, its significance, and types, let’s discuss how to select a recommender that would add most value to your application.
One of the top queries that students have is, ‘does designation of the recommender matter for LOR?’
Yes, it is of significance but not the most important factor of your LOR. To give an example, a college principal may not know you as well as your department head, and thus, even though they hold superior designation they won’t be able to provide personal accounts of your work and achievements.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that the universities may reach out to the recommender at a later stage to authenticate the claims mentioned in the letter. So, having a recommender who knows you well can help them better vouch for you.
The best practice is to approach professors who taught you subjects which are related to the program you’re applying for. Also, you can approach the project mentor under whom you have worked with for your final project or any other major project or research.
Your current/former reporting manager or supervisor, with whom you have worked along for an extended period, would be an apt fit as a recommender.
Depending upon the program that you are applying for, strategically select 2-3 recommenders that can collectively add the most value to your application.
To summarize, a good recommendation can come from:
Academic/research project guide
Professors with subjects related to your applied program
Reporting Manager or Supervisor
Generally, recommendation letters are a 1-page essay of around 400-500 words. Yet students should check out if the university has any specific guidelines pertaining to it.
The formatting and content structure of your LOR is of importance to properly communicate your message. The content should be divided into 4-5 paragraphs with each section covering a unique aspect and the flow of content should be logical.
Establish a concrete relation between the student and recommender. In what capacity does the recommender know you and since when. Mention the designation as well as the areas of expertise of the recommender.
Mention the strengths and qualities which you would like to convey. Make sure to provide sufficient examples from recommender’s experience backing the claims. Academic and other achievements should be mentioned too.
Mention a specific incident which highlights the technical skills, like a project or research work. Co-curricular activities and soft-skills can be mentioned too if they are relevant to the context.
Conclude with a summary of all the points discussed in the letter. Provide an endorsement of the student for the acceptance to the applied program.
Once you’re done with the content, document formatting is another aspect to be taken care of. Since, most of the LORs would be read on a screen, formatting should be carried out to ensure easy readability.
Following are some basic formatting guidelines to follow:
Use A4 Page Size
Font size should be around 11/12
Font colour should be black against a white background
Set the line and paragraph spacing properly
Maintain one-inch margin on the page
Maintain the same formatting across all the LORs, this will help to create consistency.
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Your each LOR is supposed to communicate a unique aspect of your profile, from someone credible who has observed your work and performance. Mentioning what has been already covered through SOP, Resume and other documents, will make your LOR less effective.
A good recommendation letter should cover qualitative aspects of your profile which can’t be conveyed otherwise. Like your ability to work effectively in teams and problem-solving skills. These mentions should be backed by the recommender’s experience to establish credibility.
Often students end up choosing wrong recommender, which can hamper the impact that the LOR can make. Keep in mind to select a recommender who can provide maximum value to your application, considering the program you’re applying for.
The reason that universities ask for multiple recommendation letters is so that they could get a holistic understanding of your profile. This helps them to evaluate your candidature and decide whether you would be a good fit for them.
Students often make the mistake of keeping the same message across all LORs and thus, send out a flat and monotonous message. Using a fixed template and just filling the blanks with different recommenders can save time but can reduce your chances of acceptance.
Decide on the message that you want to convey through your LOR and accordingly maintain a simple yet effective tone and vocabulary of the content.
Using complex vocabulary and stuffing the letter with adjectives can affect the message that you intend to convey. Your recommendation letter should be easy to read and clear in its message.
While mentioning achievements and performance try to present those in form of numbers.r. Like you stood among the top 10% of the batch for XYZ subject. Providing data to back up achievements makes your profile stand out.
To help prepare an effective LOR, the student should work along with the recommender throughout the entire process.
Professors or Reporting Managers may not be aware of the LOR writing best practices and the context in which they must write the letter in. To bridge this gap, a student should research and help the recommender with a set format or pointers that you would want them to write around.
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