Monday, 8 February 2016

The ABC of a great LOR

A good letter of recommendation can be a ticket to your college admission abroad. Here’s how you can get it right.

Every year, several students approach me with requests for writing a letter of recommendation (LOR) for them. If a student is known to me personally or if I have taught him/her, I respond positively and invite the student for a personal interview. If a student is not an acquaintance, I politely say, “Sorry, it is not fair on my part to write an LOR for you, as my acquaintance with you is limited.”

A letter of recommendation is a letter written by an academic, administrator, or employer who recommends the applicant for a university study and states how suitable the applicant is for the graduate programme he/she has chosen. Most top colleges and universities abroad require that applicants get LORs from at least three persons, preferably from academics (professors and education supervisors) who have known the applicants long enough and who can write authoritatively about the applicants’ personal qualities, academic achievements and competence. The universities/colleges require that the applicants provide the contact information of the recommenders so that the admission team can contact the recommenders directly via email. Below is a sample from the University of South Florida:

“XYZ has requested that you write a letter of recommendation for admission to a graduate programme at the University of South Florida. By requesting a recommendation through the university’s online application system this applicant has agreed to waive the right to view the recommendation letter that you submit…”

The email communication tells the recommender to maintain confidentiality and not to show the LOR to the candidate or anyone else.

An LOR carries weight and plays an important role in the application screening process. The applicants’ personal qualities, abilities, aptitude, preparedness, research experience, and so on can be known through LORs whereas their other skills (proficiency in the English language and knowledge in the core subjects) can be assessed through standardised tests such as TOEFL, IELTS, GRE and GMAT. Some universities give guidelines to the recommender on what should be focused in the LOR. Here is a sample from San Diego State University:

“Please upload a letter of recommendation. Please include any comments you think important concerning this applicant. We would especially appreciate your comments about (a) the applicant's work prospects; (b) the relevance of graduate work to the applicant's future; and (c) the applicant's intellectual ability and capacity for advanced graduate work.”

In the light of this, it is fair to say that an LOR is a true reflection of an applicant’s self in the form of a letter sent to a university’s admission team for the trust it has placed in the recommender.

For applicants, choosing a good recommender is as important as choosing a good university. How to choose one?

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