the how-to guide
Letters of Recommendation
What is an LOR?
Let’s look at letters of recommendation. How are the letters of recommendation actually different? The most important aspects of your application rely a lot on what you have to say about yourself – right from your transcript to your resume and your statement of purpose. This is the one time – letters of recommendation – where you have to get other peoples opinions about you.
Now who are these people and how do you make this happen? First and foremost, you need to select a recommender very well. They play a very important role in the admission decisions, whether you’re applying for a Master’s program or a doctoral program.
For a letter of recommendation, the most important point is they have to be taken from people who know you professionally. You don’t want to take this recommendation letter from peers or, people who know you personally.
When I say that these people have to know you professionally, it can be at your workplace, a senior at your workplace or an immediate supervisor. It could be a project guide, academic faculty and an HoD – any of these work well.
Another aspect is important of the letter of recommendation is it should have good balance between the strengths and weaknesses. Some of your weaknesses which you have tried to overcome over a period of time and that has been observed by the recommender.
On an average when you’re applying for a Masters and a Phd program you would require three such recommendation letters. So you’ll have to identify who these three people are who can give you these recommendation letters. You might have five or six people that you identify you will have to choose from.
Now how do you actually choose? When looking for the best recommender, the most important aspect in terms of selecting the is that the recommendation letter should add value to your application in terms of the relevancy of the program that you’re applying to.
For example if you’re applying to a robotics course, then the recommender should have actually interacted with you in the field of robotics. Only then it becomes a good, strong recommendation letter. Accordingly you want to select the recommenders.
Important points to remember
Now let’s also understand some other points.There are about five or six very important points that you need to keep in mind before you actually get into the recommenders on board.
When you start drafting this recommendation letter, be very sure to mention the duration and the context of your interaction with this person who is going to be your recommender here.
Be very conscious about the length of the recommendation letter – you don’t have to write a very long recommendation. It’s a letter so ideally it should fit into a letterhead which would mean that you just about have enough space to fit in three paragraphs. This which would be the introduction, the body of the recommendation letter and a conclusion.
Okay, as i mentioned before, they relevancy of the interaction matters a lot. It’s not so much about the designation or the qualification of the recommender that matters to get a good recommendation letter.
Okay, now there are two ways of sending the recommendation letters. First and foremost, most of the universities these days will have an online recommendation letter methodology.
So in your online application form, they will get an automated mail. So they’ll open that link, and then they’ll actually fill out the form that was sent to them. That’s the usual way these days, hard copy recommendation letters are very obsolete. They’re hardly used, unless, of course, you’re applying to some of the European countries, like Germany in which case you would need that letter of recommendation to be on a letterhead.
Now, let’s, talk about the content of these letters – what actually goes into this letter of recommendation to make it worthwhile? The most important thing about the content, as I mentioned earlier is that you get just about three paragraphs to make it worthwhile and presentable.
So what do we actually write? The content of the letter of recommendation should focus on both your strengths and weaknesses. Weaknesses that you’ve overcome over a period of time.
At the same time, while listing these out, make it a point to cite some examples as a part of the interaction.
For example, if the recommender mentions that you are hard working – How does this recommender know that you are hard working ? Is there an example that you can mention in the letter of recommendation?
The same applies to you being a good team leader. So, say, this recommender has been your project guide and he’s seen that being a good leader to a team of other people while working on the project. Can he quote an example of when you displayed these leadership skills?
These are the things which will make that letter of recommendation really impressive. So these are certain things that, you might want to make a note of. These are the most important points.
Steps to getting an LoR
Let’s go further and understand how these letters of recommendation actually have to be sent to the university through the online medium.
Most importantly, as soon as you are done with your application and working on the letter of recommendation, we would suggest that you start thinking about who can be your possible recommenders.
Identify the people and get their approval well in advance – don’t wait for the last minute because you know professors and faculty members are also going to be busy with their own schedule.
So if you want them to send this recommendation letter in a timely manner, you need to inform them well ahead of time.
Now, in the application form you want to waive your right to see the recommendation letter– the reason being these letters of recommendation are supposed to be confidential.
You’re actually not supposed to see the content in the letter of recommendation. There would also be certain rating criteria in that form that they get as a part of the automated link. They would have to rate skills like academic, there’s research skills, organisational skills etc.
You will also want to keep a close watch on your application form to ensure that your recommenders have actually uploaded these letters of recommendation or else you’ll have to remind them because these also necessarily have to be sent before the deadline.
Okay so this is just a gist of the letters of recommendation. One other aspect that I wanted to point out and you need to understand is that universities require three recommendation letters so you want to make sure you approach three distinct people in terms of the level of interaction because each recommendation letter should highlight a different quality in you.
If one is talking about your academics, then the other could talk about the project skills and if you’re working or have done an internship then the third one should talk about you know your technical skills.
That’s the reason they require three recommendation letters. Keep them very distinct and unique. There should not be any overlap in content.
Okay, so this is just what you need to look out for as far as letters of recommendation are concerned.
They seek to point out the qualities that transcripts do not – soft skills. That’s the reason why the letters of recommendation are so important for your application.
Bonus Admissions Resources
Pros and Cons of Pursuing Higher Studies in Non US Countries
Masters Abroad: All About SoP, LoR!
How To Write A Winning SOP!
now it's your turn
I'd like to hear from you
There you have it—a letter that would make any university want you.
Are you going to work on your LoR right away?
Or maybe you’re ready to start looking for the right recommenders.
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