Why recommendation letters are a vital link
As application deadlines approach pressure is on not just the applicants but also the recommenders. If you work in an educational institute or a large corporate setting, there is a chance you may be asked to write a recommendation letter on behalf of a student or employee.
For Universities abroad, letters of Recommendation (LORs) form an important part of the application process, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. While all other documents of the application reflect the candidate’s perspective and document their experience objectively, an LOR presents an external perspective on the applicant. It is a window into the traits, achievements and character of the candidate as viewed by someone who has worked closely with him or her. It can effectively corroborate claims of the qualities and achievements made by the applicant in the forms, essays and other materials. In many respects, an LOR is a validation of what has been claimed elsewhere.
Who Should Write An LOR? Students aiming to pursue undergraduate or post graduate studies, will need two to three LORs written by teachers/professors who have taught them in high school/undergraduate classes. Though any teacher can write the LOR, it is preferable to request a letter from teachers who have taught the applicant subjects that he or she plans to pursue during undergraduate or post graduate studies. Such teachers will be able to highlight achievements in specific focus areas and give the admissions committee an insight into performance, proficiency and passion for the subject. MBA applicants, on the other hand, require two LORs written by direct supervisors with whom they are currently or have worked under in the recent past. MBA recommenders are expected comment on the applicant’s range of skill and characteristics. Therefore, it is important to select a recommender who knows the applicant well, both personally and professionally and will be able to comment on interests and contributions outside of work as well. The recommender is also expected to be a mentor and guide to the applicant, both personally and professionally. This requires the recommender and the candidate to share a rapport.
What are the Contents of a Good LOR? The undergraduate/post graduate LOR generally should not exceed one page and summarizes a student’s level of involvement and behavior in class; his ranking vis a vis his peers; his proficiency and specific achievements in the subject, including details of projects accomplished and awards won through participation in events and competitions; skills developed on the subject in class and any exemplary submissions which impressed the teacher. An MBA LOR is much more detailed and is usually structured around specific questions. MBA LOR’s begins by outlining the candidate’s relationship to the recommender and his scope of work in the organization. This is followed by a brief overview of the applicant’s skills in leadership, communication, initiative, creativity, integrity, collaboration, analysis, problem solving and strengths as a team player. MBA LORs ask the recommender to rate the applicant against others in the same role and discuss a time when the applicant was given constructive feedback and what s/he did to improve. A perfect conclusion to the letter should include details of the applicant’s activities outside work and community orientation, which project as a well-rounded, socially conscious individual.
If you’ve been asked to write a recommendation for someone, treat the request with respect; you have someone else’s future in your hands. If you feel you cannot write a positive letter it is perfectly acceptable to decline the request. But if you support the applicant, give it your best effort. Impactful letters of recommendation can go a long way in confirming an applicant’s offer of admission.