Queries regarding the best letter of recommendation (LOR) format are natural, considering the fact that the LOR is a vital document for admissions into any University. The importance of the LOR format can be gauged from the fact that this document is carefully scrutinized by admission authorities before finalizing any candidate for admission into their institutions. Letter of Recommendation or LOR aims at providing a better insight into the achievements, background, contributions, experiences, and skillsets of applicants as far as admissions officers are concerned. Any student venturing abroad for higher studies will need a LOR, irrespective of the course and country. At least three LORs are required from their professional backgrounds/colleges. UG students may obtain LORs from teachers, principals, school counselors, or professors while MS students will require them from college professors or internship supervisors and even manager/team lead from companies they have worked with. MBA applicants will require professional LORs, particularly if they have experience of 3 years or higher. Recently graduated MBA and Ph.D. aspirants may get LORs from project guides or college professors.
What is a Letter of Recommendation (LOR)?
A letter of recommendation is nothing but a document that analyses the qualifications and skills of students for getting admission into a university. It is of two types- Academic LOR and Professional LOR.
A student can arrange a LOR from- university professors, the head of the department, previous employers, and colleagues. A recommendation letter consists of multiple paragraphs in which the person ( previous employer or professor who has taught the person before) writing the LOR describes the skills and qualities of the student that make him an ideal fit for the university.
Letter of recommendation format – Basic outline
The letter of recommendation format for students for academic as well as professional LOR is given below
An academic LOR is written and is majorly divided into various paragraphs that describe the student’s educational background, skills, fortitude, and areas of improvement.
The format of a LOR (modified the keyword- LOR format) typically includes :
In the introductory paragraph, the recommender mentions the student’s name he is recommending. The second paragraph talks about his relationship with the candidate and the time he has known the candidate. One thing to note here is that the Letterhead for academic LOR constitutes the institution’s name or university.
- A description of the student’s qualities and abilities
This section entails the recommender’s description of the student’s qualities and abilities that he finds appealing.
- What makes the student an ideal fit for the university?
In this section, the recommender explains how the candidate can be a valuable asset for the university by mentioning the candidate’s overall contribution apart from academics. Hence, this section reflects the person’s active participation in extracurricular activities like debates and declamations, academic projects and presentations, etc.
The conclusion includes a closing statement by the recommender in which he summarizes the insights he has provided about the student. The conclusion is followed by the recommender’s signature, referring the person to the admission officer entailing the details for communication like the contact number and mailing address.
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The format of a professional LOR includes
- A letterhead of the organization is provided at the start of the professional LOR.
- A short and well-curated introduction states the recommender’s relationship with the candidate.
- An overview of the candidate’s qualities, strengths and experiences forms the second and third paragraphs
- How the journey of the candidate has been in the organization forms the fourth paragraph of the body of the LOR
- A concluding section where the recommender refers the applicant to the university.
- The recommender’s signature and name, along with the designation, name of the organization, and contact details.
Letter of Recommendation Format- Academic LOR
The letter of recommendation format for academic purposes is usually given by a faculty member of the earlier institution. Universities usually seek 2-3 LORs from the earlier institution so work out the LOR format accordingly. The letter of recommendation for Indian students from faculty will vary with regard to content. The teacher/professor will have to highlight the accomplishments of the applicant as a student of a particular course. The question and answer format is usually followed. Running formats are standardized, usually about 400 words, and divided into four equal paragraphs.
Here are some key pointers worth noting:
1. The first paragraph will have the following details (of the recommender) – designation, college name, affiliated with university name, department, the capacity of association with the applicant, number of years/duration of association, subjects taught to the applicant and semesters. Write the name of the project undertaken and the semester when undertaken for project guides.
2. The second paragraph will have the following details- seminar, project, internship, and workshop (names and contributions of the applicant). The recommender should mention what especially impressed him/her. The project guide should write about the applicant’s role in the project and what he/she guided the applicant on.
3. Third paragraph will have the following details- As per the applicable format of letter for recommendation, the third paragraph will have 1-2 classroom instances where the recommender was impressed by the applicant’s participation/contribution/involvement. Examples of queries/discussions will suffice. Out of the box solutions given by applicants may also work. Details of activities may be given by the recommender or entrepreneurial attributes and aptitude for instance.
4. The fourth paragraph should have the recommender talking about the applicant’s extra-curricular and co-curricular achievements and activities. The LOR should end with the name, designation, city, college, department, city, contact, and email details of the recommender.
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LOR Format- Professional LOR
The Professional LOR (Letter of Recommendation) format comes into play when applicants are applying for MBA in universities and colleges abroad who have pre-stated work experience criteria. The professional LOR from a supervisor is different from an academic LOR by way of specifically tailored content emphasizing the ability of the applicant to work with teams, exposure to any particular domain, and his/her leadership skills.
Most MBA programs have a form-based LOR with standardized questions that the recommender has to answer. Universities may sometimes seek a LOR in a running LOR format like the Academic LOR format. The key difference here is in the content type rather than the font style or word limit. A professional LOR will also be divided into four paragraphs of approximately 100 words each. Here are some key tips worth noting in this regard:
1. The first paragraph will offer these details about the recommender- designation, department, organization name, city and capacity of association with the applicant and duration/number of years of this association. The recommender should mention the organizational department and designation of the applicant without fail. He/she should talk about the responsibilities and roles of the applicant which impressed him/her.
2. The second paragraph will have the recommender talking about the professional achievements of the applicant. For example, an applicant may have helped in lowering process costs, quantifying things, and also helping achieve any particular company goals. The recommender should mention any appreciation from clients received by the applicant in this section along with talking about the skills of the applicant for handling teams and how he/she motivated team members towards success or the achievement of business excellence. Leadership skills of the applicant are the core focus of this paragraph.
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3. The third paragraph will talk about projects, workshops, seminars, and so on. This will have details of their names and the contribution of the applicant towards the same. The recommender should state aspects about these activities and the role of the applicant in various scenarios which impressed him/her considerably. The recommender may also offer instances where theoretical concepts were practically applied for the best results by the applicant and which impressed him/her greatly. The recommender can give details about any activity linked to business development, research, and academics that the applicant took part in and which the recommender wishes to share with the university’s admission committee. The recommender can also talk about the research interests of the applicant in this section and his/her attributes and aptitude for knowledge gathering and research work.
4. The fourth paragraph will have the recommender talking about extra-curricular or co-curricular activities undertaken by the applicant at the workplace and his/her achievements with the same as well. The LOR should conclude with the details of the recommender including his/her name, designation, department, organization, and contact information. Email is also mandatory in these cases. Applicants should note that the LOR should clearly mention their relationships with recommenders.
Importance of a LOR
The top reasons why students need a letter of recommendation are
Validates your resume for both academic and professional experience
The most important advantage of a LOR is that it acts as proof of your accomplishments which are already mentioned in your resume. Academic LORs focus on your academic performance and your overall student record. Professional LOR highlights the role and responsibilities you fulfilled in an organization/institution/university during your term as an employee or a student.
Provides a third-person perspective of your candidacy
Most universities ask for an Academic LOR to assess your abilities as a student and decide whether you’ll be a good fit for a program or not. An academic LOR describes your qualities and skills as a student. Whether you were a topper of the class or a rounder at your previous university, every aspect of your performance makes sense.
The academic LOR presents the perspective of your university professor, which helps the admission committee of the university you are applying to. This third-person perspective goes a long way in enhancing your candidacy.
Shows your leadership and team abilities
A recommendation letter plays an important role in pointing out your leadership skills from the experience you have gained through your previous degree and job roles. For example, most universities demand a Professional LOR from your recent employer in order to apply for MBA courses.
These letters provide a glimpse into your abilities to work in a team and qualities that can make you a good leader. The opinion of your recent employer adds a lot of value to your LOR, thus enhancing your chances of getting selected by the university.
Specifies the areas that need improvement
Along with portraying your leadership qualities and providing a third-person perspective to the university’s admission committee, you are applying for, most of the professional LORs also mention your shortcomings and the areas you need to work upon.
Mistakes to Avoid While Writing a LOR
A LOR is an important document that makes your admission process experience into your dream university a smooth one. However, there are certain things that you must avoid while writing from LOR.
Choosing the wrong recommender
The most common mistake that students make during their application process is choosing the wrong recommender for writing a LOR. A professor recommending should be well acquainted with you to state your qualities and skills that make you an ideal fit for the university.
Repeating your SOP & Resume
While writing your LOR, a recommender should be mindful that he doesn’t repeat the information that is already there in your resume and SOP. Although your LOR can include the achievements that are already mentioned in your resume and SOP, it should bring a third-person perspective to your student record.
If your recommender only repeats the aspects that are already mentioned in your resume and SOP, it can hamper your chances of getting selected by the university.
Not providing the LOR on the university’s Letterhead
Your recommendation letter must be typed on the Letterhead of the university to prove that it has been provided by the official resource ( professor, head of the department) associated with your previous institution.
Lack of relevant data
To make a recommender write a winning letter of recommendation, you must provide him with relevant documents- Resume and SOP. With the help of the essential data that your resume and SOP cover, it becomes easier for a recommender to draft a LOR.
Not giving enough time
This is the most common mistake students make while arranging LORs for studying abroad. If you want your recommender to write a suitable LOR, you must provide him with at least one month’s time for the same.
How to ask for a LOR?
While asking for a Letter of Recommendation from the previous university professors may seem like a big deal, it’s not that difficult. If you shared a good bond with your professors, they would be more than happy to give you a recommendation that can help you fulfill your dream of studying abroad.
The steps to follow while asking for a LOR are
Choose who you want to write your LOR
A recommender can only be a person who knows you personally and can confidently state your qualities and skills in a way that turns out to be beneficial for you. It is advisable to make a list of people you can reach out to. Out of that list, request a recommendation letter from the person you think will be able to provide unbiased opinions about you.
Request in person
Before you send a formal email to ask for a recommendation, try requesting your professors in person. Asking them in person will create a positive impact, as you can tell which course you are applying for and what universities you are targeting. This will further help you in gaining personal insight from them.
Also, when you share a good bond with them, they will be more than happy to recommend you.
Provide them with your well-curated resume
The easiest way to arrange a well-written LOR is to provide your recommender with your well-curated resume in which your academic achievements and skills are clearly highlighted.
In case you are a high school student who doesn’t have a resume yet, you can make a brag sheet instead.
The important components that your brag sheet must include are :
- The courses that were taught by the professor you are asking for a recommendation and the grades you got in them.
- One or two of your top attributes with examples of how you’ve demonstrated them in class or at work
- Your test scores, overall GPA, and other academic achievements.
- Your participation in extracurricular activities
- Any volunteer work you have done
- Work experience
- A short description of your goals for the program or position you’re applying for
Send a formal request
Once you have requested your professor in person, it’s time to send a formal request recommendation letter via email. While sending the request, make sure that you provide significant details such as
- Description of the program you are applying for
- Deadline of the LORs
- Your updated resume or brag sheet
- A sample letter for their reference
Follow up before the deadline
Once you have asked for a recommendation letter, remember to follow up with a gentle reminder at least one week before the deadline. While sending a follow-up mail, you may provide some additional information that you think will be helpful for them.
Write a thank-you note
After receiving the LOR from your recommender, be courteous enough to express your gratitude towards them by sending a thank you note. Also, make sure that you inform them once you get selected.
Important Resources to Read:
How to write a good LOR?
While writing a letter of recommendation, a recommender should keep a few guidelines in mind. These guidelines give an understanding about the candidate to the admissions committee, which further helps them to decide whether he is the right fit for their university. Therefore, when you ask anyone to write a recommendation for you, make sure it has the following elements:
- A brief description of their relationship with you
The person writing your recommendation letter must state their relationship with you. They should write about how long they have known you and on what projects/work they have interacted or worked with you, and the experience they had with you. For example, in case your recommender is your university professor. He can mention how many semesters he has taught you.
- Whether the observation of your recommender was direct or indirect
If the recommender has directly observed you since the beginning, it is advantageous because it shows that he is confident about your skills. Therefore, it gives a clear idea to the admissions committee about your level of interaction with the recommender. For example, from the beginning of the program, I was his chemistry professor and observed him actively participating in class discussions and projects. The recommender has clearly stated that his observation was direct in this statement.
- Should explain your suitability for the program
Your recommender should clearly explain how he finds you a suitable candidate for the program you are applying for. Rather than sounding like your advocate, he must state strong and genuine reasons.
- Avoid mentioning grades or scores
As your academic grades and scores of competitive exams are already mentioned in your application. Your recommender should avoid repeating them in your LOR unless relevant to your educational background.
- Only include private information if important
Including confidential information in the LOR should be avoided unless it is relevant.
- Should mention the values you intend to bring/add to the university
Stating about the value that your recommender thinks that you would be able to add to the university gives a unique direction to your LOR. There are certain aspects that can be covered in this section. These include the new learnings/values, positive changes, and skill sets that you will be able to contribute to the university.
Who needs LOR? Why is it important?
Students planning to pursue their studies in a foreign country need a LOR. Whether they are going for an undergraduate program, a postgraduate program, or a Ph.D., they need to provide at least two to three letters of recommendation from either their university or recent employer.
A LOR is significant because it validates your resume for both academic and professional experience, provides a third-person perspective of your candidacy, shows your leadership and team abilities along with the specifications of the areas that demand your attention.
What is the format of a letter of recommendation?
The format for a letter of recommendation is different for an academic LOR and a professional LOR. An academic LOR consists of an introduction, a description of the candidate’s skills and qualities and a conclusion. It is written on the university’s Letterhead. A professional LOR, on the other hand, is written on the organization’s Letterhead and covers an introduction, overview, a candidate’s journey in the organization, and conclusion.
What should be the word limit for a good letter of recommendation?
Although the focus of a recommendation letter is more on the quality rather than the quantity, its length should not be more than two pages.
How to write a good recommendation letter for a student?
There are specific tips that a recommender can follow to draft a good recommendation letter for a student. These tips include- only agree to write a recommendation letter for a student you know at a personal level, ask for submission details such as the name of the recipient, email ID, and deadline of the LOR, ask them to provide you with their updated resume and details about the program for which they need a reference and elaborate on their qualities, skills, and experiences with the help of relevant examples.