Letter of Recommendation aka LOR is a document endorsing an individual’s professional or academic performance. The letter assesses your overall personality including factors like your qualities, strengths and weaknesses, and team contribution/class participation. The recommendation letters are generally written by previous professors, employers, clients, teachers, or counselors.
In the academic sphere, LOR is often a necessity for graduate degree programs. Amongst all the courses, letters of recommendation play a key role in programs like MBA, MS, Computer Science, etc.
Table of Contents
Based on what you have accomplished and what you are doing, students are asked to submit an Academic or/and a Professional letter of recommendation. Often, graduate courses in the field of management, engineering, medicine, and education, etc require both academic as well as professional LORs.
|Criteria||Academic Letter of Recommendation||Professional Letter of Recommendation|
|Required for||Bachelors, Masters, Research||Mandatory courses like MBA, MEng, Medicine, Education, etc|
|No. of Letters Required||2 to 3||1 to 2|
|Skill-Sets to Focus On||Academic performance and the ability to grasp difficult concepts.||Professional behavior, team-work, and leadership qualities, etc.|
Read in Detail:
Reference letter is always submitted in a form of a letter discussing the applicant’s qualifications, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. A typical letter of recommendation format comprises of three sections divided into five paragraphs:
- Introduction (one paragraph)
- Information on applicant’s skills and Quality (Three paragraphs)
- Conclusion (one paragraph)
Content of Letter of Recommendation
Basic information on how to submit recommendation letters to universities abroad are:
- Recommender relationship with the student
- Duration and nature of the relationship
- Details about student and student performance (that is; potential research topics, student's potential, professionalism, interpersonal and leadership skills, passion for the field, personal characteristics, and other specialties specific information)
- Proof of relevant work experience
- Past and current achievements
- Analytical ability and critical thinking
- Academic and extracurricular potential and activities
- Zeal, passion, motivation, and commitment towards the intended program
- Uncertified or certified skills relevant to the program applied for
- Factors that may affect the applicant's performance
- Information on how the applicants fare against contemporaries
While the basic guidelines for academic and professional letters of recommendation for students remain the same, the requirements and prompts vary from course to course. The requirements and structure for a few top courses are given below:
|Program||No. of LORs||Type of LORs||Theme|
|LOR for MS||Three||At least 2 Academic LORs||Emphasize on academic achievements, capabilities, interests, and career goals|
|LOR for MBA||Two to three||At least 1 Professional LOR||Highlight problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, strengths, and areas of improvement|
|LOR for PhD||Two to three||Academic LORs||Talk about knowledge of subject, prior research & publications, academic performance|
|LOR for UG||One or two||Academic LOR||Academic achievements and relationship with peers should be highlighted|
Below are a few LOR samples for Indian Students planning to pursue higher studies abroad:
- Academic LOR for MBA in Canada
- Professional LOR for MBA in USA
- Academic LOR for MS in Mechanical Engineering
- Academic LOR for MS in Business Analytics
- Professional LOR for Computer Science in Canada
Getting a LOR from your employer or professor might not seem a difficult task as these people have known you for a respectable period of time. However, it is important to ensure that the letter of recommendation format they provide you is impressive and serves the purpose.
Some of the tips to get an impressive letter of recommendation for a student is:
- Check the university guidelines: Sometimes universities ask the recommender to adhere to a specific structure both in terms of submissions as well as in terms of content. For instance, a LOR for Ireland is to be submitted along with the application form, whereas, LORs in the USA are majorly submitted by recommenders separately.
- Tone and Theme of the LOR should be consistent: Recommenders must ensure that they do not use contrasting tones while writing a letter of recommendation. Furthermore, it should include both strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.
- Starting with a good introduction: It is a good practice for recommenders to start the letter with a few lines of introduction about themselves, the professional capacity they are serving in currently, and also the years of experience they have. Furthermore, the introduction should establish a relationship between the candidate and the recommender.
- Focus on journey and not just milestones: Recommenders often make the mistake of singing praises of their candidates without backing them up with real examples. The best practice is to objectively lay out the skills and strengths of the applicant and include relevant examples of the same. For example, if you believe your candidate has good leadership skills, describe a real scenario where he/ she volunteered to take responsibility, and demonstrated leadership qualities.
Check out the Letter of Recommendation Guidelines, Samples, and Requirements for Top Study Abroad Destination:
There are quite a few common mistakes which both recommenders or the students asking for a recommendation must avoid. Following are some tips to submit a great LOR by avoiding those common mistakes:
- Using dishonest means: It is very tempting to buy a letter of recommendation nowadays, especially online. However, it would be wise to not fall into these traps. Universities use extremely sophisticated plagiarism detection software, experienced admissions counselors.
- Approaching the wrong recommender: Remember to only ask for recommendations from people who have interacted with you recently in a professional or academic capacity. Ideally, you should ask for recommendations from teachers who have guided you in some research/ practical capacity or from former supervisors at the workplace. Check: How to Choose Right Recommender?
- Not giving your recommender enough time: Recommenders are often busy professionals with tight schedules, therefore, you should always approach recommenders around 3-4 weeks in advance. Furthermore, you should regularly check-up with your recommenders regarding the status of your LOR to ensure they have not forgotten about the all-important task you have entrusted them with.
- Not giving your recommender proper guidelines: Don’t forget your professor interacts with 100s of students on a daily basis. And your former manager has tens of employees reporting to him/ her. Take the effort, therefore, to make life a little bit easier for your recommender by updating them with your latest achievements and accomplishments.
- Exaggerating your strength & achievements: It is important that your letter of recommendation from employer or professor includes both your strengths and weaknesses. Often recommenders focus only on the applicant’s strengths and forget to mention areas of improvement. However, universities tend to appreciate constructive criticism, and including them only serves to make the recommendation more genuine and sincere.
The importance of a letter of recommendation cannot be over-emphasized as this letter convey far more about a candidate than grades, scores, and class rank. In most cases, the admission committee uses the information enshrined in the letter to learn more about the student’s technical abilities, empirical knowledge, interpersonal skills, and professional attributes: qualities that simply cannot be conveyed on an academic transcript.
Some of the commonly asked questions regarding Letter of Recommendations:
Ques. How is a LOR different from an SOP?
Ans. One of the major differences between a Statement of Purpose and a recommendation letter is that while the former is written by applicants themselves, the latter is written by someone else.
Ques. Who can write a Recommendation Letter?
Ans. Depending upon the type of recommendation/reference required, LOR can be written by a Supervisor, Professor, Employer, or Counsellor. In some cases, students may have to ask their peers/colleagues to write a reference letter for them.
Ques. What is the ideal length of a LOR?
Ans. While there is no stringent word limit prescribed in a format for Letter of Recommendation, an ideal word count is 500-600 words. Unless otherwise specified, recommenders should complete their reference letter within one side of single A-4 size page.
Ques. Why do you need a recommendation letter?
Ans. Of all the documents submitted during the admission process, it is a LOR that offers an outside perspective of an applicant’s personality traits, achievements, and commitment towards studies.
Ques. How to Request a Letter of Recommendation?
Ans. The best way of approaching a recommender is via email or phone call. Ask them politely and provide all necessary details such as submission guidelines, requirements, etc. Also, while asking for a LOR, don’t forget to point out any specific skills and achievements you want them to highlight.
Other Recommendation Letter FAQs
Ques. What are the essential components of an impressive letter of recommendation?
Ans. An impressive letter of recommendation comprises details like
- your name
- connection with the student you are recommending
- their qualifications, strengths, and skillset
- your feedback on their potential
- their suitability for the chosen program
- contact details
Ques. How does a LOR vary across countries?
Ans. The letter of recommendation requirements varies across university and by extension across countries. The requirements vary in terms of the number of LORs, submission guidelines, template, type of LOR, etc. Therefore, students are suggested to verify these details before asking for a LOR from a potential recommender.
Ques. How to write a positive academic letter of recommendation?
Ans. A letter of recommendation, academic or potential should incorporate all significant components such as student’s qualifications, strengths, contact details, etc. Talking, specifically about academic LOR, recommenders are advised to share their honest feedback upon the student’s performance during his/her time at the university. Furthermore, recommenders must specify how the applicant will be suitable for the applied program.
For example, if you are writing a LOR for MBA, you must talk about the student’s potential after obtaining the degree and how the student will add value to the chosen university’s student community.
Ques. Do you need to sign the letter of recommendation?
Ans. Yes, every recommender must sign the LOR they are writing for any student. This goes for even those LORs which are submitted electronically and no via post. The signature on the LOR is a sign of authenticity.
Ques. Is there an ideal word count for a LOR (academic and Professional both)?
Ans. While there is no specific word limit on a letter of recommendation, an ideal word count for a LOR should be around 400-500 words.
Ques. How does Letter of Recommendation requirements vary across countries?
Ans. While the basic structure remains the same in each LOR and the content differentiates majorly in terms of courses, there are a few minor details that vary as per the university, and therefore by extension across the countries. Check out these variations in the guidelines and LOR samples written for the top 4 countries:
Ques. Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation for MS program?
Ans. Majority of students require academic LORs for MS programs, there are only a few universities that mandatorily ask for professional LORs. Therefore, students must ask their academic supervisors, professors, counselors, etc.
Ques. Do letters of recommendation expire? How recent should be your LORs?
Ans. Your letters of recommendation should be preferably 1-2 months old only, especially in the case of academic letters of recommendation.
Ques. If not mentioned, which type of LOR should I submit for my graduate degree program?
Ans. If you have any concrete work experience, you should preferably submit 1 academic letter of recommendation and 1 professional letter of recommendation.