If you’d like to watch a video explaining everything about a letter of recommendation, please visit this link https://youtu.be/J63afLL1P4U.
Let’s look at the letter of recommendation and see why it is an essential factor in your admissions.
A letter of recommendation is a letter of reference that vouches for a specific person based on their characteristics and qualifications. Whether you’re an employer or a teacher, you’ve most likely gotten multiple requests to write letters of recommendation in addition to your regular workload.
Let’s say you want to hire someone as a project engineer for your tech firm. You think that candidate ‘x’ is the best choice and you have already finished three rounds of interviews with him, but there is something which does not click right yet. That’s when candidate ‘x’ presents his letter of recommendation from his previous employer or professor, stating that he will prove to be the greatest asset for your company.
It’s what I say to everyone. Everything you have in your application is from your perspective and hard work. A Statement of purpose has your words, academics, and your extracurricular. As a prospective student, you are selling yourself and trying to stand out in front of the admissions committee. All of these documents are gathered to throw a positive light on you.
A Letter of Recommendation breaks this thread and brings in a third-person perspective. A third person who is highly qualified has a Ph.D. and has taught 1000s of students. This qualifies them to be as authentic and honest about the students as they can. It helps the admission committee look at a student from a third person’s eyes. Highlighting the areas you are already trying to embellish through your resume, SOP, and other aspects of an application.
In many countries and India, a significantly higher number of students associated with one professor makes it challenging for them to stand out and convince the professor to give a LOR. This blog will cover how you can build that relationship with the professor early on, along with a LOR template that I have personally used to send out to 10+ universities.
Let’s talk about the procedure on how LORs can be turned into universities.
- Application portal – Most of the time, when you fill out the university application, they ask you to put down 2-3 emails. These emails will be of the professors to whom you want to send a unique link to submit the letter of recommendation. It ensures that students do not have any way to modify the LOR before they come into the universities.
- Uploading it to the application portal – For a few universities, they require you to get the LORs from the professor by yourself and put them in the application portal.
Here are a few points you have to keep in mind.
- Test cases
- a. If you are right out of college, then you take both the LORs from your professors.
- b. If you have graduated and worked for 1-2 yrs, take one LOR from a professor and take one from your employer
- c. If you have 5+ yrs of experience, then take both of your LORs from your employer unless noted otherwise.
- I prefer getting the LOR on the university’s letterhead or the company unless the professor or manager you have worked with has left the company. Just in case you cannot get the LOR on the letterhead, do not freak out. Reach out to the university admission department and ask for a solution. Usually, the universities are accommodating and will tell you what’s an ideal solution in that case.
- Not all schools are going to ask you for a recommendation letter. Some universities ask the professor to answer a few questions. It’s done to keep the recommendations easy to compare. For example, here is **what Stanford Business Graduate School asks the professors.**
How to write a letter of recommendation?
Remember that the letter of recommendation doesn’t have a specific format since the universities do not expect the professors to write it in a particular manner. All they are focussing on is the content of the letter.
To write a great letter of recommendation, the following questions need to be addressed. Many times professors ask students to write the first draft of these questions that would further help them in the future.
|Professor’s perspective||Students Perspective|
|How does the professor knows the student? If you the professor has only taught the student couple of courses then acknowledging that helps the reader.||You would mention the courses professor has taught. You would want to put down your achievements from the course since the professors tend to forget what students might have done during the course.|
|US universities are looking for critical thinking skills of the students. It’s important to know for the admission committee if the student takes intellectual risks or go beyond the classroom experience.||If you have done something extra during a group project or contributed to the chemistry society for example, you might want to put it here. The professor can vouch for your extra curricular as well.|
|Does the students have leadership abilities or any other talent?||This is where if you’d group project, those will come in handy.|
|What motivates this person?||Think about this deep and hard. What is your innate passion or motivation behind your masters. Give you a personal example; I wrote a thesis on risk management. My motivation behind was to reduce the cost impact on construction projects. While I was writing the draft of LOR for a professor, I mentioned that explicitly. You have to remind your professors again and again on what excites you and is passion for you.|
|How’s the student with teachers, fellow students? Talk about the social skills and personality.||I will put an excerpt from one of my letter of recommendations. “I personally believe that he must be strong in such area. His interpersonal skill is excellent, can work as a team, very humble and easy to deal with.” This line describes it all.|
|How do you as a professor think that the applicant will be a good fit for xyz university. (in this case the professor has to know things about XYZ university. It works out well in cases where the professor is from the same university as the one you are applying to)|
|As a professor do you know any unusual family or community circumstances which the university should be aware of?||A lot of times in top universities students come from various difficult backgrounds. Having that context from the professor helps ad-com understand students achievements better.|
Here is how you can make it easier for your professors to write LOR!
- Send them a copy of your resume or CV that lists all the activities, internships, jobs, research work experience, and prizes you might have won since your freshman year. Highlight the important points you want the professor to focus on.
- Information about the universities you are applying to, the course type, and whether the university has a special requirement for a Letter of Recommendation. I would suggest you create a table for them to make it easier.
- Include a copy of your statement of purpose.
- Check-in with the professor 2-3 weeks before the application deadline and remind them about uploading a Letter of Recommendation.
- Tell them in advance that you are applying for universities in the US, and it would be beneficial if they could write you a recommendation letter. It doesn’t take much time to write an email, so do it.
P.S. I am aware that many universities in different parts of the world do not follow a similar pattern to what’s been described above. But all these points will help you navigate the process better and modify it accordingly.
Recommend asking you to draft a LOR!
Usually, this should not be the case, but due to time constraints and having 100s of students, it becomes more difficult for them to remember everything about the student.
Here is a draft you can use for your letter of recommendation. Modify it according to the facts you have. Access it here.
As a statement of purpose, there is no specific format for a letter of recommendation. The professors can even write a paragraph, and that should do the job for you.