Letter of recommendation or LOR is a key part of most of the scholarship applications. College admission department does not get a chance to know about the applicants due to the large volume of applications that are received for admissions. This is the reason why a letter of recommendation is required along with other documents/experiences for college admission. The majority of admission officers emphasize that their process is holistic. They seek to gain a sense of the student as a “whole person” rather than focusing on pieces of who he/she is based solely on the resume, grades and test scores. It’s important to check the purpose of the program before getting a recommendation letter from a referee/teacher as the referee should know what study or scholarship program the applicant is applying for? It’s important to know what the scholarship is for so that the referee can cater to the letter. It is a part of full application to study programs such as Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees in which other documents like application form, statement of purpose or SOP, resume, work experience, etc, are mainly considered.
A letter that expresses a strong vote of support as well as highlights a student’s impressive academic and personal strengths can have a powerful effect on that student’s chances of admission.
The scholarship committee wants to understand how the students work with others. While describing the experience with the student, the referee must be sure to include details. This helps the reader understand what type of person the student is. The referees may include meaningful events that happened while they taught the students.
Letters of recommendation to be included with the applications of the graduate programs are submitted in a particular format. It needs to be uploaded online. However, if the referee would like to submit a letter, they should ensure it is written on official business/institutional letterhead. The letters of recommendation must be written in the referee’s own words. Since a school asks for at least 2-3 LORs, the contents of the letters of recommendation must not be same or must not follow a general template because similar content may lead to rejection of the application.
Letter of recommendation can be classified into two broad categories based on the nature of the recommender:
- Academic LOR
- Professional LOR
What to Write in a Letter of Recommendation – Generic Approach
A LOR is divided into sections which should be structured in a proper way as shown below:
- Salutation – If a referee is writing a personal/professional letter of reference, then it should always include a salutation.
- First paragraph – The first paragraph of a recommendation letter should explain referee’s connection to the person they are recommending, including how they know them, and why they are qualified to recommend the person for employment or school.
- Second paragraph – The second paragraph of a recommendation letter contains information about the individual the referee is writing about, including why they are qualified for a position, what they can contribute and why the referee is recommending them. One should provide full details about these aspects.
- Third Paragraph – When writing a letter recommending a candidate for a specific job/scholarship/graduate program, the recommendation letter should include information on how the person’s skills match the position they are applying for.
- Summary – This section of the recommendation letter contains a brief summary of why the referee is recommending the person. They can use phrases like “strongly recommended” or “recommended without reservation” or “Candidate has my highest recommendation” to reinforce the endorsement.
- Conclusion – The concluding paragraph of the recommendation letter should contain an offer to provide more information. Include a phone number within the paragraph and provide the phone number again and also an email address in the return address section of the letter or under the signature.
How students can ask for LOR?
- The applicants should pick a teacher who has taught them for a long period of time and whose classes they have performed particularly well in.
- They should ask a professor with whom they have had extensive interaction, such as one from a course which involved a lot of discussions.
- Recent graduate looking for teaching job – If the applicant specifically studied to become a teacher in college, then they will have already taught some courses under the guidance of a professor or two. One of these professors is by far the best candidate to ask to write a recommendation.
- To ask for LOR in person – Whenever possible, always ask for a recommendation in person. The referee will appreciate that the applicant took the time to make a personal, face-to-face appeal. They should not jump straight into asking for a reference. They should explain exactly what they are applying for so that the referee can understand why an applicant is asking in the first place. Applicant should express gratitude and emphasize why they require a LOR.
- To ask for LOR via email – Format an email in such a way that it contains information about the course study/scholarship program details, how the particular referee is the best person to give recommendation and the applicant should close the email by requesting the referee to provide a reference on behalf of them for the admission.
This article should help both students and teachers/referees to understand how a strong academic LOR can help students to get admission to top colleges or universities worldwide.
Letter of Recommendation – How to write an academic LOR?
A letter of recommendation is generally provided by a faculty member of the applicant’s previous institute. Usually, universities ask applicants to provide two or three LORs via referees from the previous institute (they could be teachers from schools in case of undergraduate courses and professors from college in case they are applying for Masters’ programs). LOR format from faculty often varies in the content and requires the professor to highlight the applicant’s accomplishments as a student of the course.
The key points to be included in a perfect academic LOR (students should specify these things to their supervisors so that it can be mentioned in the LOR to give it more weight to compete with other applications) are listed below:
- Focus on study program – If the recommendation is for a college or graduate school, referees should ask the student for more information on the school or program. The referee should try to focus on the student’s skills that relate to their ability to succeed at that school. If the letter is for a teaching position, ask for a description of the job.
- Collect crucial information from student – Referees should ask the student for his/her detailed CV so that they can write about the student’s experience accurately.
- Explaining how the referee is familiar to the applicant – In the introduction, the referee should briefly explain how they know the student. If the letter is for a former student, the referee must explain how many courses the student took with him/her, and/or if they have worked with them in any other capacity.
- Mention specific examples – Provide specific examples of ways in which the person has demonstrated various skills and qualities.
- Make it positive – Positive statements should be written to prove that the student is a strong candidate for the job or the graduate school.
- Share contact information – Provide a way for the graduate school or the employer to contact if they have further questions. Referees must include email address, telephone number, or both at the end of the letter.
- Follow LOR submission guidelines – Referees should have clarity about the LOR guidelines before writing the letter. Make sure to follow any requirements, especially about where to send it and when, as well as the format.
Letter of recommendation – Sample of Academic LOR
The letters of recommendation are required as part of the application for college admission in Bachelors or Masters or PhD degree. All these letters must vary from each other but they must fall under the academic LOR. Give your recommenders plenty of time. If possible request a letter at least a month before and no less than two weeks before it is due. If you receive no reply after 4-5 business days, write again. If you still receive no reply, turn to someone else.
As an example, you can check the LOR guideline to apply and study in the Department of History at Harvard University. Each study/scholarship program has certain guidelines for a LOR as administered by the university.
We would like to give an example of an academic LOR which helped a student in securing a place at the Harvard. This LOR was given for a chemistry course at Bachelor’s level. The key points that the referee mentioned about the student were the differentiating factor for the successful application. The teacher mentioned the following points to make the candidate’s application stand apart:
- In the first paragraph, the teacher pointed out about the program that the applicant applied for. He discussed how he knew the applicant (his current role) and also mentioned the applicant’s achievements such as the applicant’s participation in Olympiad exams.
- In second paragraph, the teacher mentioned about a national level Olympiad competition and how the applicant was one among the top 20 candidates selected for it. The referee praised the applicant’s time management skill which he displayed while preparing for the Olympiad along with attending his classes regularly and sincerely.
- The teacher also mentioned how he encountered the applicant for the first time in school and how he did well in the classroom. He also mentioned about the applicant’s exposure to different chemistry modules (such as organic chemistry, physical chemistry, etc) which prepared him for the college level studies.
- In the third and fourth paragraph, the teacher praised the applicant’s intelligence, motivation level and ability to use theory and practical equally well. He pointed out the applicant’s skills in a laboratory as well as his leadership skills. Also, the referee had written about the personal and charismatic level of the applicant among his peers in class.
- In the last paragraph, the teacher re-emphasized the applicant’s contribution at the college level.
The points mentioned above should guide students to choose their referee carefully and share full details about their program and other details with them.
Also, read ‘How to Apply for an Education Loan‘