How to write a Letter of Recommendation (LOR): Samples
According to a report published in 2017 by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a little more than 1 lakh Indian students have applied for graduate programs in the US. This includes the aspirants who are planning to pursue a Master’s Programs across various disciplines including business and technology. Some of the most common questions that these students ask are on popular topics such as Statement of Purpose, Transcripts, AApplication Deadlines & Letter of Recommendation. In this article, we are going to cover everything there is to know about a Letter of Recommendations (LOR).
The importance of LOR
A Letter of Recommendation (LOR) is a vital part of the application process which can make or break a student’s chances of getting into an institute or securing a scholarship. Shriram Krishnamurthi, a Professor at the Computer Science Department at Brown University has written:
The LOR plays a crucial role in differentiating your profile from lakhs of other applications and also has a favourable impact on your chances of securing an admit. The admission team of top institutions look for promising students who possess good academic qualifications, impressive social skills, authentic character and have the will to succeed. It helps the admission team to have a holistic idea about your personal and professional journeys.
Challenges faced while creating a LOR
Prospective students from India who are planning to pursue a Master’s Degree from the US often struggle with getting the right flavors in their letter of recommendation. This is primarily because their professors or employers may either be used to creating a LOR with a particular template or may have no idea about it at all.
Here are some Dos and Don’ts for an effective LOR
1) Dos of LOR:
Heard about Blake Gottesman? Without a college degree, Blake managed to get into Harvard Business School, all thanks to a stellar letter of recommendation written by the 43rd President of USA – George W Bush, whom he served as a full-time personal aide. After graduating from Harvard in 2008, he joined Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm based out of Boston, as a senior associate.
Of course, not every applicant may have worked with or been taught by a genial Ex-President or Prime Minister who is willing to offer a LOR. But if you have work experience and have also interacted with any of the heads of a department – for instance, a CTO who is known across the industry, it would be great to secure a letter of recommendation from him.
As a student, if you are able to get the head of the department or the Dean to provide you with a LOR, it would matter much more than getting your immediate friendly boss or your jovial 11th standard science teacher to do it.
LOR shouldn’t conflict with the rest of your application
Let’s look at this with an example:
Jhanvi Khanna is an MS aspirant who after working for 45 months in a high growth startup has applied for an MS program. She had been savvy enough to get a glowing LOR from the founder of the company – a charismatic gentleman whose success stories have been splashed in newspapers across the globe.
Here is a snippet of the Recommendation Letter:
Can you spot what went wrong?
Jhanvi has claimed her work experience to be 45 months in her application. But her CEO has written that she worked for 4 years. One may perceive this as being bureaucratic but it is absolutely critical that the information given in your transcripts match accurately with what is written in the LOR.
Use Impactful Language
Visualize that you are going for an interview for a dream job. Are you likely to dress in a jaded pair of clothes along with a pair of old loafers or would you want to adorn yourself with a crisp white shirt and a classic suit with polished Oxford shoes?
Rather than using insipid words or clichés, using descriptive vocabulary and engaging phrases throughout your LOR would ensure that it stands out.
Here are some LOR samples
For instance rather than writing:
Ramesh is an all-rounder. He understands technology as well as copywriting. At present, he is working as a coder but when our marketing team was facing a challenge in creating a new tagline, Ramesh took it up and resolved it.
One can write:
Ramesh is a versatile professional who doesn’t shy away from taking up challenges. He is an accomplished technology leader with impressive knowledge about the intricacies of writing appealing content as well. Recently when our marketing department hit a roadblock about creating a compelling tagline to replace our existing one, Ramesh immediately decided to volunteer. He was able to marry powerful insights about our product along with his thoughts on what kind of copy would work. This resulted in the conception of a remarkable slogan which has generated tremendous recall value for our brand.
Yet, one must be careful about a few aspects. One shouldn’t be using phrases that could be misinterpreted. For instance – He is a perfectionist. Certain admission officers may interpret this as a sign of narcissism or even having negative social traits.
Your letter should be peppered with meaningful anecdotes
Let me explain this with an example:
Isn’t this a fascinating story? This anecdote brings not only brings to light Rajiv’s calibre as a fantastic batsman but also establishes that he is a young man with robust morality. Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, a story like this illustrates the characteristics of the applicant like nothing else can.
2) Donts of LOR:-
Don’t repeat your resume
Writing a LOR that only repeats what is given in your Resume would certainly inhibit your chances of getting admitted in an MS program. The purpose of a LOR is to sketch your complete personality in the mind of the admission officer without you having to speak a word.
Repeating facts and figures given in your resume would make the admission officer feel that the official who has written the LOR is distant and does not share a healthy relationship with the applicant.
Recommendation letter example:
“To the Admission Office
I am happy to recommend Mr Jai Shah. He has scored an average CGPA of 3.8 out of 4 and is a gold medallist in mathematics…..”
Facts like your CGPA, gold medals, honor would already be present in your CV and reinstating the same may not be the right strategy
Spelling mistakes are a big no-no. It may raise doubts about the credibility of the individual who is recommending you.
Politically incorrect language
Today, one has to be extremely mindful about hurting sensibilities. One may inadvertently end up hurting others by using certain phrases or words.
Imagine that the Admission Officer reading this is suffering from Asperger Syndrome. The applicant might have his sympathies but this letter could displace the admission officer’s temperament for a while and impact Aslam’s chances of getting admitted.
The individual writing a recommendation may not be well versed with the nuances of English Language. But the applicant will have to take special care in ensuring that such sentences are not a part of the LOR especially if the person offering a LOR is known to have limited command over the English language.
The letter is too short
An appropriate letter of recommendation should be around a page long – which mean around 500 to 600 words when written on an A4 page. Sometimes, Universities may specify the number of words which makes it easier. A study that assessed several letters of recommendations indicated that the more detail in the letter, the better for the applicant – which meant that as long as the details in the letter are relevant, a longer letter could be favourable for the prospective student.
However, a recommendation that is hardly half a page would seem as if it has been forcibly written. A golden rule to keep in mind is that a letter of recommendation should be crisp enough to be captivating for the reader yet long enough to cover the important parts.
Let us consider an example:
GREedge Verdict: Undoubtedly the candidate – Rajiv Bhat has immense potential. Unfortunately, the letter written by his professor seems like a buffet which only served lip smacking soup and delectable starters but kept the patrons hungry for more.
Let us consider one more example:
GREedge Verdict: From this LOR it is evident that the candidate has been a star pupil all throughout and has participated in a plethora of activities & events. This LOR shines light on his achievements, enterprising spirit and will for sure get him into the good books of the Admission Committee
Conclusion – Preparation, Visualisation and Revision are important
It is important to prepare at least a couple of years prior to creating an effective LOR. This is because one may still be falling behind on certain parameters such as academics, professional achievements, personal growth or extra – curricular activities. One could start visualising how one’s LOR should look like after a couple of years and work on achieving the same. So if your grades are not up to the mark, you could not only work harder to improve your average but also follow your passion of building robots which you had been procrastinating for long. It is imperative that one doesn’t pursue activities just for the heck of including them in the LOR as these pursuits wouldn’t last long. One should also recognise the prospective writer of one’s LOR and invest in building a healthy relationship with that person. Finally, it is important to revise and proof read the LOR multiple times before arranging for sending it across.