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Your Complete Guide to Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Drafting

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Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation (LORs) for University Applications: A Comprehensive Guide

Well-framed Letters of Recommendation (LORs) can be the game-changer for individuals applying to educational programs, jobs, or internships. Admissions committees and employers often rely on these letters to gain deeper insights into an applicant’s character, skills, and potential. Conversely, a poorly written LOR would not just be detrimental to the applicant’s prospects, but it will also leave a negative impression of the recommender themselves and at times, the organization they would be representing.  

 

This article is targeted towards both, applicants to study programs as well as recommenders who might actually be writing the Letters of Recommendation for such applicants.   

 

Now we understand that a lot of recommenders may not have the time to draft entire letters (particularly if too many applicants are approaching them), and therefore, they often ask applicants to frame the LORs themselves. Which is why, even applicants seeking recommendations need to be aware about what needs to go into the LOR.   

 

In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to write a powerful and effective LOR that showcases the strengths and qualities of the applicant whose application is being endorsed.

Importance of Letters of Recommendation

A lot of applicants tend to assume that their LORs hold considerably less importance than the SOP. However, that is not true. Letters of Recommendation (LORs) hold significant importance in the application process, serving as a valuable tool to strengthen your candidacy. Understanding the importance of LORs can help you appreciate their impact and effectively leverage them in your applications. The following points sum up the importance of LORs: 

1. Provides a third-party evaluation

A letter of recommendation offers an independent evaluation of your skills, accomplishments, and potential from someone who knows you well and has observed your abilities firsthand. This external perspective carries substantial weight and credibility, as it goes beyond self-assessment and provides an objective assessment of your capabilities. Admissions committees or employers often value the insights and perspectives offered by individuals who have worked closely with you, making LORs a vital component of the evaluation process.

2. Demonstrates your qualifications

A strong letter of recommendation serves as compelling evidence that you possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to excel in the opportunity you are applying for. It can help differentiate you from other candidates who may have similar qualifications on paper. LORs provide valuable anecdotes, examples, and specific instances that showcase your capabilities, reinforcing your suitability for the desired position or program. 

Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation (LORs) for University Applications: A Comprehensive Guide

3. Gives a Personal Touch

While your application materials may highlight your academic achievements, professional experience, or technical skills, a letter of recommendation adds a personal touch to your profile. It provides valuable insights into your character, personality, and work style that may not be evident from other documents. LORs can shed light on your work ethic, interpersonal skills, leadership potential, and other qualities that contribute to your overall suitability for the opportunity at hand.

4. Builds Credibility

Receiving a positive letter of recommendation from a respected individual or organization can significantly enhance your credibility and reputation. When the recommender holds a prominent position or is well-known in your field, their endorsement carries considerable weight. This validation from a respected source can instill confidence in the evaluators, confirming your abilities and achievements, and positively influencing their perception of your candidacy. 

5. Provides Evidence of Potential

Especially for individuals in the early stages of their careers or those transitioning to a new field, a letter of recommendation plays a crucial role in providing evidence of your potential for success. If you have limited professional experience, a well-crafted LOR can highlight your unique strengths, aptitude for growth, and ability to thrive in challenging environments. It helps stakeholders recognize your untapped potential and supports your case for consideration, despite a limited track record.

Understanding the Requirements for Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation (LORs) are subject to specific requirements that vary depending on the program and institution you are applying to. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with these requirements to ensure that your letters effectively meet the expectations of the evaluators. In this section, we will explore the different requirements for LORs in undergraduate programs, master’s programs, and MBA programs, providing you with general guidelines to follow.

   LOR for Undergraduate Programs  LORs for Masters Programs  LORs for MBA programs  LORs for PhD programs 
Number of LORs Required  1-2 LORs  2-3 LORs  2-3 LORs  2-3 LORs 
Suitable Recommenders  Teachers, Counsellors, or Coaches  Professors, Project Guides, Research Supervisors, Managers from Internship, Professional Workplace  Professors, Managers from Workplace, Clients, Colleagues  Professors, Research Guides 
What to emphasize  Academic qualities such as intellectual curiosity, work ethic, critical thinking, leadership potential  Academic aptitude, ability to grasp and apply complex concepts, research skills, leadership potential  Leadership potential, teamwork ability, business acumen, analytics skills, ability to identify innovative solutions to problems  Academic abilities, aptitude for research, problem-solving and quantitative skills 
   LOR for Undergraduate Programs  LORs for Masters Programs  LORs for MBA programs  LORs for PhD programs 

Types of LOR

LORs fall into two broad categories:

 1. Academic Letters of Recommendation

Academic letters of recommendation are written by professors, teachers, or academic advisors who have closely interacted with you during your academic journey. As an applicant, you might want to ensure that the professor from whom you are taking academic LORs for has interacted with you beyond merely teaching a few courses (such as say, evaluated a few critical assignments, or been your project guide).  

Academic LORs are primarily used to support a student’s application for admission to graduate school, fellowship programs, or academic positions. They highlight the student’s academic achievements, intellectual abilities, and potential for success in their chosen field. Professors and advisors often provide insights into the student’s academic performance, research abilities, critical thinking skills, and their overall contribution to the academic community. 

 2. Professional Letters of Recommendation  

Professional letters of recommendation are written by current or former employers, supervisors, or colleagues who can vouch for your qualifications and capabilities. They are particularly important for applicants for Masters programs or MBA.   

Professional LORs focus on the candidate’s work ethic, skills, accomplishments, and overall performance in the workplace. They provide a perspective on the candidate’s professional demeanor, ability to work in a team, leadership potential, and other qualities relevant to the desired role or position. 

How to Select Recommenders

Selecting the right recommenders for obtaining your LORs is very crucial. The recommenders you choose should be in position to be informed evaluators of your abilities, accomplishments, and potential. The following are tips on how to select an ideal recommender who can provide a strong and compelling letter of recommendation: 

1) Consider the Purpose of the Letter

Start by considering the specific purpose of the letter of recommendation and the qualities or experiences that the recommender should be able to speak to. For instance, if you are applying to a graduate program, selecting a professor who has taught you in a relevant field would be beneficial.

 2) Look for Someone Who Knows You Well 

The best recommenders are those who have a close and comprehensive understanding of your capabilities. Look for individuals such as professors, supervisors, mentors, coaches, or others who have worked closely with you and can provide detailed insights into your accomplishments, skills, and potential. 

 3) Choose Someone Who Can Write Well  

The quality of the letter of recommendation partly relies on the writing skills of the recommender. This is especially important if the recommender is keen on writing the LOR by themselves without any interference on your end. Consider selecting someone who is known for their excellent writing abilities to ensure that the letter is compelling, well-structured, and effectively showcases your strengths. 

 4) Consider Their Reputation 

The reputation of the recommender can carry weight in the evaluation process. If possible, opt for someone who is respected in your field or industry, or who has a strong track record of success in the opportunity you are applying for. A recommender with a notable reputation can enhance the credibility of your application. 

Once you have identified potential recommenders, make sure to approach then well in advance and ask if they are willing to endorse your application. Provide them with all the necessary information and instructions regarding the application, including deadlines, format, and any specific points you would like them to address. Also, share details about the program or position, and discuss the specific qualities, experiences, or achievements you would like them to emphasize in the letter of recommendation. 

Drafting a Compelling Letter of Recommendation

Once you are done with selecting the recommenders, you would finally need to work with them to get your LORs drafted. The following would be a good structure to follow when drafting a letter of recommendation that effectively highlights yours (the applicant’s) strengths and suitability for the program:

Open with an Introduction

The letter should commence with a concise introduction that establishes the recommender’s relationship with the applicant. It should briefly explain how the recommender knows the applicant and the nature of their interaction. This introduction helps establish the recommender’s credibility and familiarity with the applicant’s abilities. If it is a professional LOR, the introduction may include describing the nature of the applicant’s work and the responsibilities they handle.

Body of the LOR

The body of the letter is where the recommender delves into highlighting what makes the applicant (who they are endorsing) a worthwhile candidate for the program. Here, they may include:  

 

    • Specific examples of the applicant’s skills, accomplishments, and character traits. These examples should directly relate to the opportunity the applicant is seeking, demonstrating their suitability and qualifications. The recommender can draw upon specific instances, projects, or interactions to provide concrete evidence of the applicant’s capabilities. Aspects such as challenges successfully dealt with can also be highlighted here. 
    • Comparisons between the applicant and other individuals the writer has worked with or supervised can be an effective way to highlight the applicant’s exceptional qualities. By positioning the applicant in relation to others, the letter emphasizes their standout attributes and sets them apart from their peers. 
    • Strengths (technical and soft-skills related) that make the applicant well-suited for the program they are applying for 
    •  

Conclusion

The conclusion of the letter should summarize the recommender’s overall assessment of the applicant. It should reiterate the applicant’s key strengths and qualifications, leaving a lasting impression on the reader. Additionally, this section should provide a clear and unequivocal endorsement of the applicant’s candidacy, expressing confidence in their abilities and why the applicant would be a suitable addition to the program cohort. 

Signature

Ideally, the letter should be signed by hand to add a personal touch and authenticity. If the letter is being submitted digitally or online, a digital signature can be used instead. The signature signifies the recommender’s endorsement and commitment to the contents of the letter. The recommender’s contact information, including their phone number and email address, should be included in this section. If applicable, the recommender can also mention their job title or professional credentials to further enhance their credibility.

 While it is essential to emphasize the applicant’s strengths, it is equally important for the recommender to maintain honesty and balance in their assessment. If there are areas where the applicant could improve, the recommender could talk about the keenness shown by the applicant in improving their abilities in those areas and how the program would be helpful in doing so. This demonstrates the recommender’s credibility and fairness.


Maintaining a professional and formal tone throughout the letter is crucial. The letter should be written with proper salutations and sign-offs, and attention should be given to correct grammar and spelling. A well-presented letter enhances its credibility and professionalism. 

Mistakes to Avoid While Drafting a LOR

While drafting a LOR, it is important to steer clear of common mistakes that can weaken its impact and credibility. Here are some mistakes to avoid:  

 

Lack of Specificity

Avoid general statements without supporting evidence. Instead, provide specific examples of the applicant’s strengths, accomplishments, and qualifications that directly relate to the opportunity they are applying for.

Lack of Credibility

It is important to establish your own credibility as a recommender by highlighting your qualifications and experience in the field. Provide specific examples of your interactions with the applicant that demonstrate your firsthand knowledge of their abilities.  

Lack of Relevance

Ensure that the content of the letter is relevant to the opportunity the applicant is seeking. Avoid including irrelevant information or anecdotes that do not contribute to showcasing the applicant’s qualifications and strengths.

Lack of Enthusiasm

Avoid writing a lackluster or unenthusiastic letter. Instead, provide a strong and enthusiastic endorsement of the applicant’s candidacy, highlighting their unique strengths and qualifications that make them an exceptional fit for the opportunity.

Lack of Professionalism

Avoid using informal language, making spelling or grammar errors, or including irrelevant or inappropriate information that may detract from the letter’s impact.

Lack of Confidentiality

Respect the applicant’s privacy and maintain confidentiality. Refrain from sharing any confidential or personal information about the applicant that could potentially be damaging or embarrassing.

Lack of Confidentiality

Respect the applicant’s privacy and maintain confidentiality. Refrain from sharing any confidential or personal information about the applicant that could potentially be damaging or embarrassing.

By avoiding these mistakes, you can ensure that the letter of recommendation remains focused, credible, and impactful. It will effectively highlight the applicant’s qualifications and increase their chances of success in their pursuit of the opportunity they are seeking.

Submitting Letters of Recommendation to Universities

When it comes to submitting letters of recommendation to universities, it is important for you as an applicant to follow the specific requirements of each institution. Here are some general steps to keep in mind:

1. Review Application Requirements

Begin by carefully reading and understanding the application requirements for each university. Take note of the number of letters of recommendation required, who should write them, and the preferred method of submission.

2. Select Recommenders

Among the recommenders who have agreed to write LORs for you, you need to decide whose endorsement you want for your candidature for different programs, considering the number of LORs required and the qualities that may be looked at for the specific program.

3. Provide Clear Instructions

Give your recommenders clear instructions on how to submit their letters. This may include details on online submission platforms, mailing addresses, deadlines, and any specific formatting or length requirements.

4. Follow up With Recommenders

Stay in touch with your recommenders to ensure they have received the necessary information and submit their letters on time. Provide gentle reminders and express your gratitude for their support.

5. Confirm Receipt

Once the application deadline has passed, make sure to confirm that all your application materials, including the LORs, have been received. This will give you peace of mind and allow you to address any potential issues promptly.

Additionally, remember to express your appreciation and gratitude to your recommenders for taking the time and effort to write the letters on your behalf. A thoughtful thank-you note or a personal gesture goes a long way in showing your gratitude. 

 

By following these steps and adhering to the specific submission requirements of each university, you can ensure that your letters of recommendation are properly submitted and contribute positively to your application. 

How We Can Help?

At Collegepond, we follow a step-wise approach when it comes to helping students in getting their LORs drafted. The first step that we do is guide them into selecting the appropriate recommenders depending on their individual background and the programs that they seek to apply for. This includes deciding between how many academic and professional LORs to obtain, and is often a program-specific decision for certain students.

  

Once the recommenders are finalized, we get students to fill in a questionnaire which is designed to extract all the necessary information that can help in framing a specific LOR. Based on the responses to the questionnaire, we work with the students to decide upon how the information could be structured by their recommender within the LOR. This tends to be an iterative process, and takes a few days to complete.  

 

So far, this approach has worked well for our students, and the LORs that their recommenders have submitted were found trustworthy enough by some of the top-most universities globally.  

 

Drafting LORs (as also your SOP and Resume) could be a tedious exercise for most applicants. However, we at Collegepond would be more than happy to help you. Not only will you receive experienced guidance for framing top-quality application essays, but you will also receive valuable inputs at every stage of your application process, from selecting the right careers, programs, and universities, to deciding between admits, as well as how to go about applying for a Visa. All you need to do is to provide your details below, and we will reach out to you very soon –  

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FAQs

When writing a letter of recommendation, it is crucial to highlight specific qualities and characteristics of the applicant that are relevant to the opportunity they are applying for. Including these qualities can provide valuable insights to the reader. Here are some qualities to consider including: 

     - Hard-working nature

     - Creativity

     - Leadership

     - Communication

     - Adaptability

     - Teamwork

     - Attention to detail

     - Ethical and responsible outlook

When including these qualities, it is essential to provide specific examples, anecdotes, or accomplishments that illustrate how the applicant embodies these traits. These examples will add depth and credibility to the letter, giving the reader a clearer understanding of the applicant's strengths and capabilities.

Provide your recommender with a copy of your resume, personal statement or essay, academic transcripts, and any relevant information about the program or opportunity you are applying for. This will give your recommender a better understanding of your qualifications and goals. 

It is not recommended to see your letter of recommendation before it is submitted, as it can compromise the integrity and credibility of the letter. However, some recommenders may be willing to share the letter with you after it has been submitted. 

It is generally not recommended to request a specific format or length for your letter of recommendation, as it can be seen as pushy or demanding. However, you can provide guidelines or examples to help your recommender understand what you are looking for. 

If you are not satisfied with the content of your letter of recommendation, it's important to address the issue with your recommender directly and professionally. Explain your concerns and provide specific examples of what you were hoping to see in the letter. 

If your recommender misses the deadline for submitting your letter of recommendation, follow up with them promptly to remind them of the deadline. If necessary, provide them with a new deadline or request that they submit the letter directly to the institution. 

Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation (LORs) for University Applications: A Comprehensive Guide

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Email: info@collegepond.com

 

Call Us:  022-46003655

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