Guide to Postgraduate Applications • Postgraduate

Letters of Recommendation: Leave Nothing to Chance

POSTED ON 10/09/2023 BY The Red Pen

Letters of Recommendation: Leave Nothing to Chance | The Red Pen

As you diligently work on your applications for an overseas master’s programme, your primary focus probably revolves around crafting a compelling Statement of Purpose (SOP), selecting the right colleges, and taking standardised tests. Undoubtedly, these elements play pivotal roles in your application journey. However, don’t underestimate the significance of the Letter of Recommendation (LOR). It represents another crucial facet of your application, requiring more than just a simple request to your recommender. Like every other component, the LOR demands careful planning and meticulous attention to detail.

Why are LORs important?

Cultivating your recommendation letter is a crucial step, as it represents a third-party endorsement of who you are and often serves as validation for other aspects of your application. These letters hold considerable sway with admissions officers at selective universities and are among the most influential factors in their decisions.

For best results, orient your recommender to the process of the letters. Every recommender is open to varying levels of input. Therefore, it’s good practice to include your resume with your request. You may also schedule a brief meeting to give them some background to your application and answer any questions they may have. Ensure they understand what you have done in your job or school and comprehend the impact of your activities. Additionally, explain your plans to them. If they know that your goals lie in a particular industry or course, they can recommend you within that context.

What should your LOR say?

Recommendation letters go beyond simply praising the applicant. They should be specific and include relevant and detailed examples of behaviours. For example, a letter cannot merely say, “Applicant X loves literature and is an avid reader”. Instead, it should state, “Applicant X can relate literary concepts across various genres. Her identification of the motifs of self-sacrifice in both Hemingway and Steinbeck demonstrates rare insight among students of American literature for her age.” 

Additionally, LORs should corroborate claims you have made in other parts of your application. If you write an essay about a challenging project that saved your company millions, the recommender should also represent the accomplishment within that scope. Similarly, suppose you have worked at an NGO or spent your free time running marathons. In that case, your recommender should acknowledge this, enabling the admissions committee to know the claims are valid and that you aren’t just fluffing up your application.

Whom should you ask for your LOR?

The essence of an LOR lies in its authenticity. It should come from someone who has directly supervised the applicant’s academic or professional journey. Here are two types of recommendations that will add immense value to your master’s application:

 1) Academic recommendations: 

Your choice of a recommender should align with your specific program and the time that has elapsed since your college years. In most cases, it is advisable to have at least one Letter of Recommendation (LOR) authored by an academic professional, such as a teacher or professor. While this academic recommender may not necessarily belong to the same field you are pursuing, their unique perspective on your academic background and potential holds significant value. This academic recommender must furnish concrete examples of your engagement within the classroom and your participation within the department. They should also provide context for your academic performance compared to your peers in a particular class or within the broader graduating cohort. This emphasis on academic recommendations becomes particularly critical for inexperienced individuals or those with under four years of work experience. During this early career phase, your academic trajectory remains fresh, making a professor’s insights relevant and influential.

 2) Professional recommendations:

A recommendation from a professional supervisor can offer valuable insights into your personal qualities and areas of growth and impact. This type of recommendation highlights traits such as work ethic, leadership abilities, and teamwork skills, providing a comprehensive view of your professional character.

A pivotal consideration is the level of impact you’ve made in your role. For applicants with over 10 months of work experience, securing recommendation letters from immediate supervisors—those who have directly overseen your work is crucial. It’s important not to request a letter from the head of the company or firm if you haven’t had direct working experience with them. What matters most is that your recommender knows you well and can provide a meaningful assessment of your capabilities rather than simply holding an impressive title.

Should I submit additional letters?

If you’ve been deeply engaged in an extracurricular activity beyond your college or workplace and have established a meaningful rapport with seniors who can attest to your dedication, diligence, and character, their recommendation adds value. Nevertheless, contacting the college or programme you’re applying to is crucial and inquiring about their preferred method for receiving such letters is essential. Be sure to follow their specific instructions in this regard carefully.

Can I write my own LOR?

Those approached to write recommendations are often pressed for time or uncertain about what to include. Sometimes, they suggest you write the letter, with them merely signing it. We strongly advise against taking this approach. If there is any doubt or suspicion surrounding your recommendation letters, it could significantly jeopardise your application, making it an undue risk.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where your recommender remains unyielding, consider seeking assistance from a friend, parent, or colleague. Provide them with key points and encourage them to craft the letter in their own authentic voice, ensuring a distinct and unbiased perspective.

At The Red Pen, we guide our students through every facet of the application process, ensuring they present their most authentic selves to their dream institutions. You may read our blogs on secrets to acing applications at top graduate schools and mistakes to avoid in your postgraduate application. For more guidance on your master’s applications, please reach out to us. Our postgraduate team looks forward to assisting you.