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Letter of Recommendation: How to write and how to ask for one
Letter of Recommendation: How to write and how to ask for one

Letter of Recommendation: How to write and how to ask for one

News & tips on your studies and career!

As students carve their path through the world of academics, it’s important to remember that good work and successful collaborations follow them wherever they go. Of that, there’s no better proof than having their professors vouch for them to an academic institution, a scholarship committee, or a potential employer.

A letter of recommendation from a mentor whose work and caliber they respect is a unique honor and a moral reward for their efforts and sacrifices.

It’s also a significant boost towards achieving their academic goals. After all, it’s standard practice for post-graduate programs to require a letter of recommendation before the admission board examines candidate applications.

What is a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation or letter of reference is a written assessment of a candidate’s character, skills, and qualifications by someone with first-hand experience of their work and personality.

Letters of reference are either absolutely required or simply recommended on several occasions, such as an application for a master’s degree, a doctorate program, an academic scholarship, a job, an internship, an artist residency, etc.

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They can be written by a professor, an employer, a colleague, or a collaborator — anyone eligible to vouch for the candidate’s qualifications and abilities. In an academic context, the letter of recommendation is written by a former professor, teaching assistant, or lab supervisor.

When writing a letter of recommendation, the referee (as they call the person who signs it) has to address the institution’s admission officer and explain why their former student is the right fit for a specific task, course, or degree.

In that light, a letter of recommendation is an integral part of every graduate’s application to their preferred post-graduate program. Providing the committee with an honest, compelling reference from a prominent and well-respected academic can seal your admission and help your future prospects skyrocket.

What to do before asking for a letter of recommendation

Before you ask someone for a letter of recommendation it helps to take some time and evaluate your options. If you want to increase your chances of getting accepted, you must make the optimal decisions. So, it’s imperative to really think it through and avoid any hasty moves.

First and foremost, you have to ask yourself three crucial questions:

Which one of your professors is more familiar and content with you and your work?

It’s not an easy task to ask a person to vouch for you to a third party. Your best chance is to ask someone that knows you well and has openly expressed their pleasure in working with you. That way, you’ll be sure that your referee can make the strongest possible case for you to get into the program.

Whose position or reputation is powerful enough to move the admissions board in your favor?

While you figure out your choices, you shouldn’t forget that a personal letter of recommendation is usually as impressive as the signature it bears. The more influential the person backing your application is considered in their field, the more chances you have of receiving a unanimous thumbs-up for your request.

Who is more likely to volunteer the time and effort required for a heartfelt, convincing recount of your strengths and achievements?

Let’s face it! A professor may be willing and able, but they don’t always have the time to invest in writing a letter of recommendation for a student. So, at first, it’s probably best to limit your choices to the people who are more available.

When you have your top picks, it’s time to make your approach. If you don’t know how to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation, read on and find out.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Regardless of how close you are to your potential referee, asking for a letter of recommendation is a delicate procedure. It’s not unusual for an individual to be reluctant to vouch for another person, even if they know them quite well. Also, attention to detail and timely delivery are essential to your cause, so you might have to press a bit for both.

Here’s how to request a letter of recommendation convincingly and get the best results:

Prepare a list of all your strengths and achievements

You can’t expect a professor to remember everything about you or know your resume by heart. That information is for you to provide. Since a letter of recommendation is about them and you, it’s best to start your list with skills you have acquired and things you have achieved under their guidance and supervision.

Arrange to meet them in person

Even if professors write many letters of reference in their time, it’s still a personal favor. Asking casually before going formal is an optimal strategy to grab your potential endorser’s attention and get their off-the-record promise to help you with your application. Just be well-prepared, brief, and concise to help them decide.

Send a formal request

After getting your professor’s confirmation, it’s up to you to lead the way by emailing them a written request. Be sure to include your updated resume and provide all the necessary information: what post-graduate course you’re applying for, when, how, and to whom they should submit the letter of recommendation, etc.

Press kindly

In every letter of recommendation, details count for a lot, so you must have the time to review and refine yours if necessary. As you’re in a delicate position, you must be prepared to press your referee, albeit in a kind manner. To reach the best results, you have to collaborate smoothly without giving them a hard time.

Say thanks

After your letter of recommendation has reached its destination, always remember to express your gratitude to your professor. It may be part of their job, but it’s still a big deal that they vouched for you. Their contribution could make that little difference towards your success, so the least you can do is thank them in person and send them the good news later.

But even if you have a distinguished endorser willing to praise your skills and potential, in the world of academics, time is a valued asset, rarely found in abundance. So, it’s probable they will ask you to write the letter of recommendation yourself before they review and sign it.

In that case, don’t stress. Just give it some thought, get a few expert tips, and do your best writing to support your campaign.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

At first, writing a letter of recommendation for your own application may give you a minor headache. How do you blow your own horn while making it look like someone else does it?

Granted, it’s not the easiest of feats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just think that nobody knows your strengths and achievements better than you and see it as an opportunity to write the best recommendation letter an applicant could ever have.

So, to make the most of that opportunity, brush up your writing skills and follow our expert advice:

Outline your letter of recommendation content

Before you start drafting your letter of recommendation, it’s best to note down and organize your content and everything you need to highlight. In short, the outline of your letter should include:

  • A list of your skills, strengths, and achievements — academic or professional.
  • A prioritized list of your assets that best fit your goal (the course you’re applying to), and should be highlighted.
  • A couple of examples from your academic or professional record that showcase how your skillset relates to your goal.

Make sure your letter meets the highest standards

Letters of recommendation may come in different shapes and sizes, but there are certain rules every letter should follow. To ensure that your letter of recommendation format complies with these standards, you should:

  • Study one or more letter of recommendation samples. Find a letter of recommendation sample that resembles the one you need and examine it closely to copy its strengths and avoid its weaknesses.
  • Use the right letter of recommendation template. To avoid getting confused with things like how long should a letter of recommendation be, pick the template that best suits your specific goal and follow it.
  • Ask your professor for a letter of recommendation example. Use it as a point of reference to organize your content and form the letter’s tone of voice to match the writing style of your referee.

Write your letter of recommendation

When you have your content and guidelines in order, you can start ghostwriting your letter of recommendation. To make sure that the outcome will dazzle the University officials and lock your acceptance, don't forget to:

  • Keep a consistent tone across the board. Remember that you’re writing the letter on behalf of another person, so you must represent them in the best possible manner.
  • Focus on what matters. Be brief and clear about what makes you more qualified than others and why your professor strongly recommends you.
  • Polish your final draft. Proofread your document extensively and ask your professor for feedback to help you optimize your letter of recommendation.

Great! Now, all there is to do is have your endorser sign the letter and send it to the admission board.

A simple letter of recommendation can make a big difference

By now, you must realize that a letter of recommendation can make a great difference in an application to a post-graduate program. It’s not just another requirement, but a personal endorsement with the power to guarantee your skills, strengths, and qualifications. That’s why you have to make the most of it.

So, always remember to choose your referee wisely and provide them with all the necessary help for writing the best letter of recommendation for your specific goal.


Read more articles:

How to write a Cover Letter for Master’s applications

How to write a Personal Statement for Master's Applications

How to write a CV for Master’s Application

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