5 Things you must include in a Recommendation Letter (LOR)
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of a Letter of Recommendation with regards to your admission applications to universities abroad. Irrespective of which country you are applying to, universities often ask for a minimum of two recommendation letters or Letters of Recommendation (LOR), or sometimes even three can be required. Due to the lack of such documents in Indian admissions or job sectors, students and recommenders are often confused as to what to write about in a Letter of Recommendation. We also have formats of LORs for your reference but like every person, it might not match your specific requirements.
Here is a list of things you should include in a Letter of Recommendation:
- Relationship with the Applicant: When writing a Letter of Recommendation, it is mandatory to clearly specify your relationship with the applicant, which essentially would mean whether you are a professor of the applicant or an immediate supervisor and such like. At times students offer LORs from their colleagues as well, and though, in rare cases, the same can be expected, it is not a wise choice for the recommender. (Read: How to Choose a Right Recommender.)
- Tenure of Association: A LOR must clearly state the duration of time you have known the applicant. If you have been a professor and got acquainted with the student in say his/her second year of under-graduation, then you must count the time from your first acquaintance till the date of recommendation. A Head of the Department, however, can take into consideration the entire tenure of the student’s course. You can be generic about years (example - “I have known the applicant for over four years now”), or it could be very specific, which is usually the case in Professional LORs (example – “I have been the applicant’s supervisor these past ten months”). Until and unless specified, you do not have to be exact but must remember that it gives a true understanding of the entire tenure of your association with the applicant.
Note for students: While choosing your recommenders, it is often best to choose a person who has known you for a decent tenure to ensure that it does not invalidate your LOR as non-conclusive.)
- Nature of association: By nature, we refer to specifics. For instance, if you were a professor/ teacher, then which subject did you teach the applicant, and if possible, in which semester. In case you are a manager or a supervisor, you should mention whether the applicant is directly reporting to you or not. In case you do not have a direct association with the applicant, you must explain how you know the person and how you are in a position to recommend him/ her. This might be true in the case of a Project Head or a Head of the Department. As a Recommender, it is essential to validate your association with the applicant.
- Accomplishments of the Applicant: The entire purpose of a recommendation letter is to highlight the applicant’s accomplishments and qualities. It is the basis on which you are recommending the applicant to the specific course. According to the nature of the LOR, the recommender should highlight the accomplishments of the applicant that are relevant to the course. This varies for Academic and Professional LORs, but one thing that must stand out in a LOR is the reason that identifies the applicant as unique, as well as a good fit for the course. This could be done by highlighting the academic accomplishments/ scores of the applicant, or the projects the applicant has worked on. This again could be academic projects (in case of an Academic LOR) or work-related projects (in a Professional LOR).
Apart from the accomplishments, it is extremely essential to include the other qualities that are important to the applicant’s suitability for the course. This also highlights what should not be included. For instance - talking about the student’s work in the college fest might not be that big a consideration. Or, for that matter, the student’s performance in a subject that is not relevant to the course applied for. Keep the focus on what the student is planning to pursue, and accordingly, highlight the facets of the personality that are a right match for the course.
- Comparative Performance: This is something that most recommenders miss out on and one of the common errors in a recommendation letter. For instance, suggesting that the student was a topper in a subject has no relevance till you provide the class size. Also, the merit of the student increases with comparative suggestions. This is often best described by suggesting where you rank the applicant in the relevant class/group size (example - top 5%, average, or below average). Often, form-based LORs, clearly ask the recommender to share the group/ team size, to determine the applicant’s performance in a more objective manner.
To summarize, a LOR is as much an objective letter as can be. It is extremely important to clearly present the student’s performance in numbers. Apart from these must-haves, there are some specific points that must be included in an Academic LOR and in a Professional LOR. So when writing a LOR, ensure that the document clearly represents the student’s candidature. Remember, writing a winning recommendation letter requires both, the right recommender, and more importantly, the right content. You must do this well because the future of the applicant rides on what you, as a recommender, say about the applicant. Your words matter so choose them carefully.