What is a Letter of Recommendation (LOR)?
A recommendation letter is a document that provides the Admission Committee a comprehensive insight to your suitable candidature for admission into the concerned University. The letter aims at enabling the Admission Committee gain a clearer and favorable picture of your experience, achievements, contributions and skills communicated by the recommender through the recommendation letter.
Provided that almost every application necessitates submission of 2-3 recommendation letters, you must have your recommenders identified and agreed to prepare your letter well in time. Also, don’t underrate the importance of an LOR as it is almost as important as your essays, statements of purpose, resume or any other document for that matter. While targeting your recommenders, you must remember a few key pointers following which you will end up submitting outstanding LOR’s to the Admission Committee.
An important point to be kept in mind is that an LOR is not a repetition of an SOP. An ideal LOR is supposed to demonstrate aspects/perspectives of your personality not mentioned either in your SOP or resume. Thus, an ideal recommender is the one who knows you well, has personally witnessed the quality of work delivered by you and readily agreed to provide specific instances of your valued contribution and excellence. A generic LOR is a strict no-no as it does not offer much value to your candidature for the program you are applying to.
You must always remember that the Admission Committee scurries through thousands of applications and yours is one of them. Now, in order to stand out, focus on including your qualities and accomplishments reinforced by real instances. Another important point here is to endeavor to make all your LORs unique and that can be achieved only if you include unique instances in all the LORs. Making an Impressive Letter of Recommendation is as important as writing a winning SOP. Just keep the formats in place and remember the common mistakes you should avoid in a recommendation letter.
Types of LOR
Letter of Recommendations broadly can be classified under two broad categories, namely:
Nature of the Recommender
How the letter of recommendation is written and presented depending largely on who is the recommender. Usually, universities specifically ask for a certain kind of recommender – namely either a member of faculty or a supervisor. The former are often referred to as Academic LOR and the latter as Professional LOR. These are usually paragraph based formats but even then, the Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Format from Faculty (Academic) varies from the Professional Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Format from a Supervisor in terms of the content that must be included.
Format – Form Based vs Paragraph Based
Some Universities, especially for MBA Programs often have a pre-defined LOR Format which is in the template of a standard form. These are again question answer based forms and are often online and sent directly to the recommender’s e-mail address. sometimes, Universities also have links which are shared with the recommender. Recommenders are requried to answer specific questions in regards to the candidate. The universities may or may not ask for a 300 word general recommendation within the form. Either ways, it is expliciticly unique and varies from university to university.
The other and more widely asked document is a simple letter of recommendation. As a general rule, a letter of recommendation is a 400 – 500 word essay which talks about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Most of the universities require this letter to be on the official letterhead. For an Academic LOR – the university’s letterhead is required and for a Professional LOR – the letterhead of the company. What is important to remember in the latter case is that the letterhead should be of the company the recommender is working in. This usually creates a problem if your recommender has moved on to another organization. Hence, the student must know how to choose the right recommender.