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Your Letters of Recommendations (LORs) are important because they verify your claims and provide the Admissions Committee an opportunity to learn more about you from people you have worked closely with. Hence, good recommendations can serve as a powerful tool to ‘sell’ yourself to the committee. 

Why are Letters of Recommendation important?

Every part of your application builds an image of your personality in the minds of the Admissions Committee. The recommendation letters provide a third person’s perspective on the kind of person you are. What a recommendation letter writes about you should add or supplement what you claim to be through your essays/SOP and work experience details. The one simple way to make recommendation letters contribute to your admission process is to keep your application straight and honest. Present the facts as they actually are and be truthful about every claim you make in your application. 

There is one thing that you certainly can do and that is to choose the people who can recommend you judiciously. Choose a person who knows you well and likes you as a person and then ask him/her to give a fair assessment of you as a person in the recommendation letter. 

Your application form will give you details about the recommendation letters you are required to submit, the number of recommendations and from whom – whether from your work or from your school or both.

Also read: Top 25 colleges with rolling admissions

Choosing Your Recommenders

Business Schools

Most schools require 2 to 3 recommendation letters.  Choosing the appropriate mix of recommenders largely depends on the program you are applying for.   For an MBA program, two recommendations from work and one from school is generally a good balance.  If the school asks for only two recommendations, it would be advisable to get both work-related LORs. As far as possible, it is advisable to get one recommendation letter from your immediate supervisor.  However, if it is not possible, then a former supervisor would be a good choice.  As a last alternative, you could use a colleague who has worked closely with you.  It is not advisable to apply without a recommendation from your current job place. 

Suggested read: Role of extracurricular activities in your MBA admissions

Graduate Programs 

For a Masters or Doctoral program, you should get at least two recommendations from your professors.  If you have performed research or worked on a thesis, it is highly recommended that you get a reference letter from your Advisor.   If you worked for a company either full-time or as a summer intern, you could take one letter from your immediate supervisor.

Undergraduate Programs: For candidates applying for an undergraduate program, very few schools ask for a recommendation letter.  If asked, you should get it from one of your favorite teachers in school.

Some other points to keep in mind while choosing your recommender:

– Choose people who know you well. 

Rather than choosing a famous person who has no intimate knowledge of your skills and abilities, it is much more effective to use a person who can illustrate your strengths and show you at your best. 

– Choose people who really like you.  

It is important that a recommender invests time in writing your recommendation.  A person who likes you will take out the time as well as put a positive spin on your qualities. 

– Choose people who can address more than one key criterion. 

your business and managerial skills, intellectual ability, leadership potential, maturity, work ethics etc. 

– Give your recommender an outline of your work. 

Include in the outline of the assignments you have handled at work, some suggestions on how he/she might address specific issues such as analytical ability, integrity, intellectual curiosity etc. 

Also read: How to get an effective LOR for pursuing Masters abroad?

In case your recommender says he has no time and asks you to write the LOR, do discuss points with him before putting pen to paper. Here are some points that the recommender needs to cover.

  1. What is your relationship to the candidate and how long have you known the applicant? Is this person still employed by your organization? (Yes/No) If “No,” when did he/she leave the organization? (e.g. August 1999).
  2. Provide a short list of adjectives that describe the applicant’s strengths. (The adjectives must be substantiated with actual life examples e.g. “he is a very capable student, as he is always in the top 10 % of the class when it comes to exams, and he has often topped the class in mathematics.”)
  3. How does the applicant’s performance compare with that of his or her peers?
  4. How has the applicant grown during his/her employment with you? Please comment on the applicant’s maturity.
  5. Comment on the applicant’s ability to work with others, including superiors, peers and subordinates. If the tables were reversed, would you enjoy working for the applicant?
  6. In what ways could the applicant improve professionally? How does he/she accept constructive criticism?
  7. How well has the applicant made use of available opportunities? Consider his or her initiative, curiosity and motivation.
  8. Comment on your observations of the applicant’s ethical behavior.
  9. What do you think motivates the candidate’s application to the M.S program at an American university? Do you feel the applicant is realistic in his/her professional ambitions?
  10. Are there any other matters that you feel we should know about the applicant?
  11. Which special assignments/projects has the applicant done under your supervision?
  12. What are the applicant’s key achievements during his association with you?

If the recommender is writing his own letter for different programs, as opposed to filling out forms provided by each school, the following is an effective structure:

  1. Intro- A brief description of his credentials. Those credentials include his relationship to you — how long he has known you and in what capacity — and how many other applicants like you he has supervised or taught. Close this paragraph with a thesis statement for the letter — the outstanding qualities that motivate him to recommend you.
  2. Body paragraph 1: Discuss Quality #1 and provide an impressive example of when you displayed that quality.
  3. Body paragraph 2: Discuss Quality #2 and provide an impressive example of when you displayed that quality.
  4. Body paragraph 3: Discuss Quality #3 and provide an impressive example of when you displayed that quality.
  5. Body paragraph 4: Briefly discuss a weakness and describe progress the applicant has made in minimizing that weakness.
  6. Conclusion: Summary of your strengths and a ringing and enthusiastic endorsement of your candidacy.

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