What is a Letter of Recommendation?
Guidelines for writing a good LOR: What to mention and what not.
While applying for various universities, you may have heard a lot about something called the letter of recommendation, but what is it? Just as the name says, a letter of recommendation, is a letter that recommends a student, employee, colleague or co-worker. It is also called as a letter of reference or LOR in short. When issued to a student, this letter helps the admission committee to know and understand more about the applicant. Needless to say, this is a great tool to showcase the positives and most impactful information about the applicant from the eyes of their supervisor/mentor/superior/guide/faculty.
The LOR needs to be short, crisp and to the point to have the best impact. Remember, it is a separate letter and should never be mixed with a Resume. This is the most important reason why applicants may face rejection or refusals. But what is a good LOR?
How to write a good LOR?
There are few guidelines and points to be kept in mind while writing a letter of recommendation. These guidelines help the admissions committee to get a detailed insight on the applicant and the relevance of the recommendation. So when you ask anyone to write a recommendation for you, ensure it contains the following elements:
- A brief explanation about their relationship with you. The letter should mention about how long have they known you and in what capacity have you interacted –advisor, mentor, faculty, teacher, supervisor or colleague.
- An emphasis on the observation being direct or indirect. It always has a positive impact if the observations were direct as that gives a clear understanding of the extent of interaction. For example, working directly is important and adds more value than being known through someone and having worked together remotely. Things like “I know her/him and observed them while working in a group headed by Mr. Y”. In this, the recommender only observed you working in another group led by someone else who is actually not writing the recommendation.
- LOR should carry a very accurate assessment of your eligibility and suitability for the course/program/study. Emphasis should be more on suitability rather than the recommender sounding more of like an advocate. For example, the recommender should mention how you fared in class about a relative course of interest/ rank position like top 3 or top 1% of the class/university.
- A recommendation letter should never mention any grades or scores of competitive tests unless required to interpret some academic details. These are already mentioned in your application and repeating them in an LOR is a big No.
- Any private or sensitive information on you should be included only if it has any relevance or unless considered absolutely necessary.
- The recommendation letter should mention about the qualities and unique contributions that you would bring to the university – what positive changes, impact and new learning would you be able to contribute towards. Comparison information helps strengthen your LOR if its provided with examples of true context and has a rationale for the comparison. For instance, a mention about how many among the ‘X’ number students in a class taught by the recommender, you, the applicant, stood out (with examples of initiatives taken by you.)
In a nutshell, the best recommendation letter comes from someone who agrees freely and is not forced to write. For instance, what’s the point in getting someone to write a recommendation who is short of time, too busy and ends up writing 50 words instead of 200- 250 words? A vague, messed up and hastily written letter is worse than writing nothing. A recommendation should come from someone who has the authority and designation, which would add weightage to the letter. Thus, be very wise when choosing someone to write you a recommendation letter.
Many a times an applicant gets the recommendation done by someone whom they’ve had the rapport and ease to work with rather than someone who is a tough mentor and difficult to work with. Therefore, it is important that you have a detailed meeting prior and mention the need of recommendation letter before putting a formal request for the same. A brief note, synopsis on the course and interest should be well known to the recommender before writing your letter of recommendation. Just ensure that you provide with clear and accurate dates of association.
As a well-written constructive recommendation letter goes a long way in helping your application get through. If you need any guidance regarding your letter of recommendation, feel free to reach out to our counsellors who are more than willing to help you out.
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Sandhya Nair heads the Branch Operations for IDP New Delhi. With 23 years of professional experience in the fields of Marketing, Operations and International Higher Education (15 years), she is an expert on USA, Canada and Rest of the World including Singapore and Europe. A Science graduate from the University of Delhi and MBA in Operations, Research and Marketing from the Sikkim Manipal University, she has also been a lead speaker in various international events and seminars both in India and abroad.