Letters of Recommendation

Chirag Arya

A letter of recommendation (LOR) adds an essential dimension to your college application by providing comprehensive insights on your personal and professional strengths. Often neglected by many, it is an integral part of an application that can help you boost your resume. 

It is a personalized letter issued by your professor or someone with high regard that provides an external perspective on your personality. It is different from other letters as it can uncover things that you never thought to include in your application.  

You should always be careful about whom you are choosing to write the recommendation as one negative word, and you might have blown your chances of acceptance.

Why is LOR so important?

You won't find many ways to include a third person's opinion in your application; LOR helps you achieve that. You will be surprised how an unbiased perspective can turn things in your favor. A good letter of recommendation can help you include the following points in your application in a unique way.

  • Your Strengths – You can choose any teacher to write a LOR for you, but ideally, it should be from a teacher with whom you have worked on a project. They will write about your engagement with the project apart from class and beyond your grades. It will help you include an independent perspective about your enthusiasm during the project.
  • Your interests – Outside the class, you must have indulged in various extracurricular activities like sports, music, volunteering, and research. These interests can also be a part of your LOR as you can choose a teacher who is associated with these activities to write a LOR for you. Or it can also be written by your club head, coach, or coordinates.
  • Your relationships – LOR also shows your relationship with the teachers and colleagues concerning professionalism, characteristics, capabilities, actions, behavior, and engagement with peers.

Whom to ask?

Ideally, you should ask for a LOR from someone well known and highly regarded. The credibility of the letter lies in the fact that it should be from someone that the College Board can trust. For Academic LORs, you can ask your Head of Department (HOD) or a teacher with whom you have a close relationship. Their word will vouch for your skills and interests, and also provide personal insights as they know you personally. If you need another academic recommender, there are not many choices left. Remember, when seeking additional LORs, don't just go for more prominent names if they don't know you personally. You need to understand that the person might have higher credibility, but such recommendations will lack substance. Remember that just a fancy title doesn't guarantee you great LOR.

If you're currently working or have taken an internship, you can secure a recommendation from your project lead or manager. An important factor in considering professional LORs is that you should have an idea of the recommender's articulation ability. He/she may think highly of you, but it's of no use if he/she can't convey it appropriately. If you were involved in a research project, getting a LOR from someone highly regarded in that subject will be great. It will provide validation for your research skills.

Usually, colleges have a regulation on how many letters can be submitted, and sometimes there might be specifications on who they should be from. You should be able to find this information on the college website.  If the rules allow, you can also include a recommendation from family members or counselors. You can also consider a coworker for a kind word. It is suggested to understand the application process and see what is needed carefully and then apply.

Guidelines for requesting a recommendation

Asking for recommendations is not that difficult, but you should follow a defined pattern to ensure everything goes well. Here are some tips that will help you secure great LORs.

  • Plan in advance – Before you approach your teacher or manager for a recommendation, you should align all the testimonials that support your professional and academic background. Your referrer might ask for them as a final reference before they write your recommendation. Also, make sure you have all the recommendations on track with absolute clarity on the submission date. Remember, it's of no use if you submit after the deadline. It will be heading straight to the trash can.
  • Choice of the Recommender – This is perhaps the most challenging step for the entire process. You should carefully decide on whom to ask for a LOR. The importance of such letters is very high as colleges receive thousands of reference letters daily, and most of them are with inclusive admiration. Your recommendation should be in the proper format to be get noticed and accepted. For this, the teacher that is recommending you should know you well.
  • The request should be formal – A formal request should be sent by mail asking them if they are willing to write a recommendation letter for you. The purpose of the letter should be mentioned clearly and also why you have chosen them. We suggest not rushing this step and making sure you adopt a humble and polite approach for your request. Remember to acknowledge the authority's availability and intimate them of the date you need it for timely submission.
  • Ask early – Understand that such recommendations require time to write, and your teachers might be on a tight schedule. Make sure you ask them at least three weeks in advance to allow appropriate time for them. A timely request also becomes essential because your teacher might be allowed only to provide limited LORs. Make sure you are one of the first requesters' for safer propositions.
  • Provide more information about the position that you are applying for – Specificity is a vital aspect to be considered while writing a LOR. Your teacher should tailor words that specifically suit the position that you are applying for. For this purpose, they will require information about your position.
  • Include a cheat sheet or brag sheet – It is a concise set of notes for quick references that your teacher might need while writing a recommendation. It can include all your activities and what you enjoyed most in class and learning. It shouldn't brag about your accomplishments. Also, it shouldn't be more than a reference list that you included for your teacher's convenience.
  • Take follow-up – After you send in your request, don't forget to follow up. Your teacher might receive a lot of such requests, and yours might get lost in their inbox or might land in spam. Make sure you have absolute clarity on their receipt on mail. Ask them to acknowledge receipt and follow up with intimation of submission date.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you – After you receive the letter of recommendation, don't forget to send considerations and a thank you. You can send a card or a message of appreciation. It conveys that you respect their professionalism for the letter's timely issue and that you are honored with their favor.

In addition to these critical points, you should also be wary of some common mistakes that students usually commit while writing a formal request to the teacher. First and foremost, never assume that the teacher will be willing to write you back. You should always take the permission of the teacher in advance.

If the teacher denies your request, don't take it negatively. There could be many reasons for the decline, like some bad experience with you, insufficient knowledge about the position, or they might not be interested in writing a recommendation letter. Sometimes faculties are just incompetent of writing such letters, and this should not bother you.

What's important is that you should be timely aware of their availability and willingness. Secondly, you should adopt a polite tone while writing such requests. Remember, they are not obliged to issue recommendations; they do it as gratitude towards your bright future.  

Final Word

A student faces a lot of competition during admissions. Many debate that recommendation letters are nothing but evidence of bias. People have often suggested that the admission committee should keep the letters of recommendation aside and let candidates tell them about their qualities and who they are. Unfair or not, LOR does convey a lot about one's personality. LORs provide students an opportunity to include a unique flavor in their applications. And for the fake letters, there are always higher authorities in the form of college boards and panels that carefully analyze these letters, so students don't need to worry about that aspect. They should seek honest opinions from their teachers and mentors to help them secure a brighter future. They should keep all the pointers needed for securing stellar LORs by their side and carefully follow the rules while submitting the applications.



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