Letter of Recommendation

Letter of Recommendation for higher studies – What are they?


When you seek admission to any foreign university abroad, the Letter of Recommendation (LOR) is one of the critical documents you submit. Let us see what a Letter of Recommendation is and how it can affect your admission prospects.

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A Letter of Recommendation is a document that provides the Admission Officers a comprehensive insight into your capabilities and justifies why you deservedly qualify for admission into the concerned university. It enables the Admission Officers to obtain additional information about your skills, experience, achievements, and contributions to the institutions you have been connected with in your career.

Why do foreign universities insist on submission of Letter of Recommendations?

You submit your Marksheets and other certificates to prove your qualifications. You have the Statement of Purpose to justify why you chose the particular University and course to pursue your higher studies. However, the Admission Officers do not get your complete picture. The LOR provides this opportunity as it presents a different facade that enables the Admission Officers to correlate with the documents you submit. Therefore, never underestimate the power of a LOR. It is as vital as your Statement of Purpose and your resume.

What are the different types of Letter of Recommendation?

You can classify a LOR into two broad types based on the nature of the recommender.

a)     Academic Letter of Recommendation

A faculty member of the previous institute you studied in provides the academic LOR. Usually, the foreign universities call for multiple LORs, either two or even three. Some of the universities require you to follow a specific format that the recommender has to adhere to. The recommender can be teachers from your school or professors from the college where you last studied. It requires the recommender to highlight your achievements and accomplishments as a student in the course.

b)     Professional Letter of Recommendation

Specific courses demand the student to have work experience. The most common among such courses is the MBA in various categories. Many students pursue their standard post-graduate courses after a gap where they work and gain experience. Such students can also submit a Professional LOR. The significant difference between the two categories of LOR is that the professional LOR focuses on the applicant’s ability to work within a team, handle a crisis, and display leadership qualities. The MBA Admission officers look for such skills that are relevant to the course they apply for in the foreign university.

How do you draft a Letter of Recommendation?

Usually, a LOR is a 400 to 500-word essay highlighting the students’ strengths and weaknesses. One should include important things like nature as well as the tenure of the association of the student with the organization/institution. The foreign universities require you to follow a specific format. One of the crucial points to remember is that the LOR should be on the official letterhead of the university in the case of an academic LOR or the company letterhead in case of a professional LOR.

Another point to remember is that the LOR should not serve as an extension of the SOP. A LOR should highlight the aspects about you not mentioned in the SOP. It should be from the viewpoint of the recommender. Therefore, the ideal recommender is one who knows you well. It is a perfect situation if the recommender is a witness to the quality of work delivered by you and acknowledges your contribution to the institution/organization. The purpose of the LOR is to recommend your name and credentials to the university with examples and justifications as to why you deserve to get admission to the foreign university. A generic LOR does not have much value.

Understand that the Admission officers have to peruse thousands of applications of which yours is one. Hence, the best way to catch their attention is a well-drafted LOR. Your LOR should make you stand out from the crowd. Your SOP and LOR together can clinch you the coveted seat in the university. Hence, you should endeavour to make your LOR an impressive one. Let us look at what an impressive LOR is all about.

An Impressive Letter of Recommendation

·        Choose the right recommender

Choosing the right recommender to provide the LOR is equal to doing half the job right. Your recommender should know you well enough to justify your candidature effectively. The person should have a clear idea about the unique attributes, the project work, and the instances to cite in the LOR. It is also crucial for the recommender to provide details of your contribution towards the success of the project. Merely stating that you were an essential member of the team working on the project will not cut ice with the Admission Officers. They are looking for that extra spark in you that separates you from the rest. Therefore, your recommender should highlight your contribution and justify that you have played a stellar role in the success of the project. It is better to choose two recommenders who can offer a similar perspective but from different viewpoints.

·        Have unique content

Ensure that your LOR has unique content and not the run-of-the-mill stuff. You can ensure unique content if you choose your recommenders properly. It is better to have your professor provide your LOR rather than the principal of your college. The simple reason is that the professor has taught you the subject and guided you through your project. Such a person will be able to assess your strengths and weaknesses accurately as compared to the principal with whom you might have interacted on fewer occasions. Similarly, your immediate superior at your workplace will be able to produce unique content about your ability to deal with people and situations. The CEO of the Company you work for might not even know you well enough to give you an effective LOR.

·        Stick to the format

Many universities require you to submit the LOR in a particular format. Stick to it in its entirety. It makes the job of the Admission officers easy. There are instances of the Admission Officers corresponding with your recommender directly if they wish to clarify details. Some of the universities seek confirmation from the official email id of the recommender. Under such circumstances, your recommender should be able to recollect that they have provided the LOR to you. Sticking to the prescribed format ensures that you cut out the unnecessary information. You tend to be precise in delivering the info whereby you eliminate the common mistakes one makes while preparing the LOR.

Common mistakes to avoid in a Letter of Recommendation

Not all universities require the information in a standardized format. The chances of committing mistakes in a standard format are less as compared to a free format. Let us look at some of the common mistakes you make while preparing the LOR

·        Choosing the wrong recommender

Choosing the wrong recommender is worse than not choosing anyone at all. We have highlighted this fact in one of the earlier paragraphs. Some of the best examples of selecting a wrong recommender are the principal of your college of the CEO of your company. If you directly report to them, it should not be a problem. However, for a general student or an employee, the best recommenders are the persons they are in constant touch all the time. It can be your Assistant Professor or your immediate superior in your office.

·        No providing enough time to your recommender

Remember that your recommender has other work as well. Approaching the recommender at the last minute for your LOR can do you more harm than good. You should give them sufficient time, maybe a month to prepare your LOR correctly. They need to think over your plus points and highlight them in the LOR. The scarcity of time can affect your chances of admission in the university.

·        Not providing examples to justify their recommendation

The primary objective of the LOR is to justify your accomplishments and ensure you get admission in the university. The recommender will be able to do that only if they provide unique examples that highlight your skills and abilities. Specific examples that prove your leadership qualities can help you nail the admission. A passing reference to your talents will not do the job. The recommender should support the recommendations with unique examples.

·        Not mentioning your weaknesses

The LOR should focus on your strengths and weaknesses in ample measure. No one is perfect in the world. The Admission Officers have enough experience to separate the chaff from the grain. They know which LOR is genuine and which is not by glancing through it. Therefore, ensure that your recommender includes a couple of your shortcomings and how you can overcome them to perform better.

·        Using a cold tone

One has to agree that the LOR is a formal document. However, the recommender can bring in the sense of warmth to it by using your name frequently instead of using the words, ‘the applicant.’ Using your name proves that your recommender knows you well and is this qualified to provide the LOR.

We have thus seen the importance of the LOR and how to write one as well. We have also discussed the necessary points to note as well as the mistakes that one usually makes while preparing the LOR. This information should help you a great deal while applying to foreign universities.


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