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Letter of Recommendation for College

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A Letter of Recommendation or LOR is quite literally true to its name. LOR is a personal letter from a credible source who can claim to have some insights into you as a person, that is sent to the person or place where you have applied and hope to be in your future going forward.While applying for admission to a graduate school or university, you will have enclosed your Statement of purpose or SOP. This is a realistic self-view, of who and what you are as well as who and what you aspire to be. The Letter of Recommendation is the way you are viewed by an external person who has worked closely with you – and is conversant with your strengths and weaknesses, character and quirks and can objectively place your value to the place you would belong to. It is quite simply a letter of reference.Very often your SOP may also refer to qualitative tasks or interactions, which may not be verifiable by the school or university you attend. This could be charitable projects, internships or research work. In all such cases, a Letter of Recommendation from a person who is in charge and with whom you worked will be a sufficient stamp of credibility towards certifying your input on all such activities and also highlighting more of your qualitative skill sets, such as management or people skills.

Who needs a letter of recommendation or Types of Recommendation Letters?

A Recommendation Letter is an added element to a portfolio sent while requesting admission to a school, college or even for a job. It adds weight to the application on account of having being written by a third person and giving a real and impartial point of view of the applicant.When a LOR is sent by students – it also works as a sort of impartial character certificate, where their qualities in working and particular skills that have been observed are highlighted. To this end the Letter of Recommendation is written by either a supervisor, senior in charge, professor, teacher, research head, extra-curricular society head or friend can write it. Letters of Recommendation are also enclosed when applying for a job along with employment applications and as character references for jobs addressed to the hiring manager.

Who to Select or request to write a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation does add weight to your application for admission, but you should ask for one when you strongly believe you have done something or participated somewhere that is a definite contribution – and the person you are asking has something concrete to say about you in any respect. A generic or weak letter of recommendation is superfluous and may do more harm than good to your application.As a thumb rule – enclose one when it is specifically asked for or when you can be assured a strong LOR. In certain situations such as: Applying for University, Applying for Graduate School or Applying for a Scholarship a letter of recommendation is a strong add on to your application and can be included.To whom should you ask for writing a letter of recommendation for graduate school for you. This depends on the kind of activities participated in as well the university or course being applied for. When applying for higher studies it is of interest to the reviewer to see how you have performed in your school or college aside from grades. The enthusiasm, participation levels, achievements, group interactions etc. that you have been a part of. The other skill sets that you as the applicant possesses are of increasingly greater importance in admissions.A teacher in whose class you have consistently performed well, or a professor whose course taken is relevant to the further study you are applying for would be your best options. In this – it is of great benefit if you have had memorable interactions, as the professor or teacher would be able to add on specific skills of your own to their letter of recommendation for college

How does one ask someone for a Letter of Recommendation?

In one word politely. The request for a letter of recommendation must be made with politeness and grace. You must understand that for writing a letter of recommendation the person has to make the time and effort to compose the letter, recollect your qualities and anecdotes if any, and then compose an appropriate letter. Being a college professor or a school teacher – they may be inundated by such requests.Please do provide the person with an introduction of yourself, where you have interacted, remind him of the important projects done together and tell him about where you are applying in which field and which university, to whom the letter is to be addressed etc. This will reduce the time taken and work to be done in composing a letter of referral. You may also include your resume and SOIWhen requesting someone to write you a LOR, always let them know why you have asked them particularly – the impact they have had on you and the reason they are important to you. As far as possible take an appointment and meet them in person to request the letter of referral. Ensure you express your gratitude to the person at all times for taking the time out and writing you a LOR. Do phrase your request politely and always provide a way to politely refuse. It should not be a polite demand but a request – which may or may not be acceded to.

What Content should be included and how should it be structured in an effective LOR?

An Effective LOR starts with a personal greeting. It is a scientifically proven fact that when we greet someone with their name versus a generic greeting we instantly get their attention and have them more strongly personally involved in us than otherwise. This works for oral as well as written greetings. Consider your response when your teacher greets you by name versus by a plain hello. The LOR should greet the person by name as far as possible and if unknown then by designation.
  • The first line is always needed to be warm as well as emphatic. It should indicate the writer's enthusiasm to be the means of introduction. A letter of recommendation template may include the following as the first line:"It is my pleasure to write a letter of recommendation for…" or, "I write this letter to unreservedly recommend…." Or "it gives me great pride to write a recommendation for…" or “I give _____ my highest recommendation….” and such.
  • Thereafter, the introductory paragraph describes the circumstances, length of time and relationship by which you know the applicant. This involves writing about your own job description and designation – and how you have crossed paths with the applicant. The letter writer can choose to write about how long they have known the applicant and the projects which were successful or interesting and which involved close interaction with the applicant.
  • The next paragraph – allows you the opportunity to extoll the virtues of the applicant. While the fact that you are writing the letter of recommendation makes it clear that you wish the person you are recommending the best and hope he gets admission to the institute of his choice – the accolades that bestow upon him in this letter should be both truthful and specific. As a sample letter – you can include attributes such as, “social skills, sharp innovative abilities, strong technical skills, sound technical knowledge, excellent analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills, ability to work diligently, remarkable team working abilities, optimistic attitude, decision-maker, tangential progression in learning, lateral thinker, innovative solution maker, etc." These bring out the qualitative aspects of the applicant in your interactions with them.
  • If possible you can relate some real incidents where you have observed such an ability. Specificity is much appreciated, such as, “in ______economics project, Rahul took the lateral view of deciding the result was due to demographics and not industry dependent as we had initially thought. He displayed the ability to research and work hard, place persuasive arguments and ability to garner group support for further work into this sector. It emerged as the correct idea. And Rahul attributed the success equally between his team and himself. I consider his ability to think as well as motivate people as a combination that will take him far."
  • You can gently encourage the reader of the letter to accept the applicant by re-iterating your belief that he would be an asset or an adept learner at the new institution. It may be stated as: "I am confident that Vidya will be an outstanding member of your theoretical physics class and the associated society." Or "Rishi with his creative mindset and hardworking attitude will no doubt be an outstanding student at your university".
  • A polite sign off is the way to end any formal letter and the LOR is no exception. Encourage further communication from your end by signalling your availability. An example is, “feel free to contact me anytime between 10 and 2 on all weekdays in case of further details being required.”

How to Write a Strong Recommendation:

There are some clear reasons why some LOR’s strikes a chord with the reader and greatly advance the applicants’ case and others don’t. The reader of the LOR – wants a real recommendation and has to sift through many to fund a true recommendation. After reading through many the LOR needs to come across as sincere as well as interesting. There are some small ways to ensure this.
  1. The LOR is well regarded if it comes from a respected source. So while your parent or sibling may write you an excellent LOR – your best bet would be to find some impartial person – in the proper position to write the same for you.
  2. The language used in the LOR should be polite, upbeat, direct and positive. Sincerity comes through in language and if you are truly recommending the applicant the tome of your letter will surely convey the same to the reader.
  3. A letter that flows like a narrative – starting how you know the applicant, for how long, what your interactions were and contains specific events and acknowledgements is much more interesting to read than one full of generic compliments.
  4. Your letter should be relevant to the position that is being applied for – whether the course or the university or the professor. There is no time or interest on either side in a rambling story and the highlighted attributes and strengths of the applicant should be ones relevant to his application.
  5. Your tone in the letter should be affable and polite. Leave contact information at the end to show your availability and willingness to expound on the applicant’s details.

What to exclude when you write a LOR:

As a matter of course – not every project could have been a success and not every interaction a win, but when writing a LOR for someone one should always have an attitude of ‘onward and upward’ and highlight the learning , the trajectory upwards, the personal growth and the innate qualities of an applicant that make him a winner.If you truly feel you have no such details to give or an honest letter to write then do give the applicant a chance to speak to you and remind you of the interactions and projects.

Format –Stationery, Font, and Margins

The stationery used can be the letter writers’ personal stationery – and their personal information will be ideally contained in a header at the top of the page. The personal information includes the name, place of work, designation, address, email address, telephone number and any other contact information. All letters begin with a salutation or greeting, and this should be as personal as possible, - preferably referring to the person being addressed by name or at least by designation and post. A generic greeting such as “To whom this may concern” gives an unconcerned impression and may at worst come across as rude. Thereafter, remember the letter of referral should be short but not tiny – a good length is 3 -4 paragraphs or 1 page in a 12 point font. The readability of the font is important as the smaller fonts make for troublesome reading and should be avoided when trying to keep the reader's attention.Margins should be kept the normal 1and quarter-inch size for a letter. Neatness and readability is a relief to the reader and results in a more receptive state of mind while reading the LOR.

How does the recipient of the LOR assess it?

The recipient of the LOR is trying to formulate a well-rounded image of the applicant and the LOR helps them get an external point of view, as well as a peek of the applicant in real-life situations. The recipient likes the LOR to actually tell them something in perspective about the applicant and not merely be an extension of the Statement of Purpose of the applicant.(Please include recommendation letter templates or hyperlinks to those already available on the site – templates and sample letters seem to generate a tremendous amount of traffic towards the site)

Here is a couple of sample LORs:

Sample 1:

It is a pleasure to extend my recommendations to Ms. Pratyusha for the MS program at your university. She is a former employee of Hexagon Capability Center India and had worked under my supervision in the ‘User Experience’ department for more than 3 and ½ years. She is a person with remarkable social skills, sharp innovative abilities, and strong technical skills. She is undoubtedly one of the most competent professionals whom I have had the pleasure of associating with, and I believe she would be an excellent addition to your institution.

Hexagon is a global software solutions provider for Plant Design Systems and Geographical Information Systems. Our department is tasked with conducting user research, interviews, and surveys, and developing new features and designs based on the information gathered. Pratyusha proved to be an invaluable addition to our team not only because of her excellent social skills- which helped her communicate effectively with our clients to understand their needs precisely- but also because of her technical skills and innovativeness which enabled her to provide several unique and remarkable design solutions for our software products.

In the duration of our association, Pratyusha worked on a total of two projects and her performance was commendable in both. In her first project ‘SmartPlant Materials’, I particularly appreciated her for her work on developing interactive prototypes that were designed to clearly convey the user requirements to the development team. I was equally impressed with the elegant manner in which she handled clients and the genuine interest that she displayed towards understanding their concerns; these qualities fetched her the ‘Pat on the back’ award on two different occasions. Her performance was far more impressive in the next project ‘SmartPlant Portal’ wherein she proposed a number of innovative ideas which were implemented to enhance the quality of the portal. She was so expeditious in providing design solutions to the product that she ultimately made the process a lot smoother and faster. Not only was she fast, she was also meticulous with her work as she went through several iterations of designs so as to ensure top quality. She was duly recognized for her dedication and innovativeness with a ‘Star Award’.

In both these projects, Pratyusha showcased great proficiency at handling User Experience, UI Design, and Architecture primarily for web-based applications and large volumes of dynamic content. She also always took the effort to stay abreast with current design trends, web and mobile design technology opportunities and limitations, which revealed to me her thirst for up-to-date knowledge and her eagerness to continually broaden her horizons. I believe that this particular quality of hers would prove most useful during her graduate studies.

I am convinced that Pratyusha is an excellent candidate for a reputed institution such as yours. She has what it takes to excel in your program, and I am certain that she would prove to be an asset to your university and graduate with the highest distinction. I give her my strongest recommendation.

Sample 2:

It does indeed give me tremendous pleasure to be writing a recommendation for one of the best students and the most promising researcher whom I have had the pleasure of associating with in all the years of my career. Ms. Parul Gupta is certainly a fine person and a brilliant scholar, and in this letter, I would like to shed light onto a few of her finest qualities which I believe make her highly worthy of admission into a Graduate program as highly reputed as yours.

I knew Parul for a period of 4 years while she was an undergraduate of Electronics and Instrumentation Engineering at the R.V. College of Engineering. Our association began during her 4th semester while she was a student of my classes on ‘Microprocessors and Microcontrollers’. Parul certainly made her presence felt right from the very beginning of my lectures, with her intelligent questions, insightful responses, and her eagerness to understand the practical applications of all concepts discussed in the class. The enthusiasm that she displayed for learning something new every day indeed made her a vibrant addition to the classroom. From the outset, I could sense that she had all the qualities of a good researcher, and my perception only strengthened after I witnessed her work in the labs, where she showed meticulous care for detail and always insisted on employing a systematic approach to solving problems. The lab sessions also brought out her ability to work well in teams and her tendency to willingly guide others in the right direction, which I believe are essential qualities for any researcher.

Sensing her remarkable potential for focused research work and problem-solving, I chose to guide Parul in two projects during the course of her undergraduate studies. And, her performance in these projects has made it very clear to me that she has what it takes to become an excellent researcher, one who I believe can produce innovations and breakthroughs that can create a powerful impact on society at large. The first of her projects was to design and develop a drowsiness detection system, which aimed at preventing incidences of accidents caused by drowsy drivers. The next was on designing a non-invasive method of measuring blood glucose and blood pressure using a wrist-worn unit. Both these projects involved the development of highly complex algorithms, and Parul, with her sharp analytical and logical skills, was able to effectively address the problems at hand. The most impressive quality of these projects was that they were both aimed at addressing real-world problems for improving the quality of life. This has been the underlying theme of all of Parul’s projects, and it has clearly shown that she is eager to use her knowledge and skills to benefit society.

The most sophisticated project that Parul completed, one demands a detailed analysis of her efforts, was her thesis project on designing and developing a system that can acquire, amplify and transmit EEG signals for neonates so as to aid in the diagnosis of neonatal illness. The project was complex in that it involved interdisciplinary research in the areas of computers, electronics, and biomedical engineering. But Parul and her team embraced the challenge, and they worked tirelessly to achieve their objective. Working closely with a practicing medical professional, who provided the requirements and also tested the final product, Parul and her team designed and simulated several prototypes until they arrived at one that gained the Doctor’s approval. And Parul played a central role in the team’s efforts as it was she who was designing all the prototypes. The team certainly faced a lot of hurdles at the start, but they preserved and the end product was appreciated by many. I showed my appreciation for Parul’s efforts and contributions by giving her a perfect score for the project.

Her sound technical knowledge, excellent analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills, ability to work diligently, a never-say-die attitude and remarkable team working abilities, certainly make Parul an excellent candidate for the intense graduate program offered by your esteemed University. I am sure she will excel at your University and go on to become an extraordinary researcher. I give my strongest recommendation.

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