Fall 2018: Who should you get an LOR from?
When you are applying for admissions to universities abroad, you are typically required to submit one or more Letters of Recommendation (LOR). The LOR is a brief document, usually about half to three-quarters of a page in length. The purpose of this document is to provide an external third-person perspective of your skills, capabilities, and qualities.
Usually written by a professor or former employer, the LOR is a vital part of your application since it testifies to your character and assures the faculty of the university that you are indeed an asset to the university. It is basically an endorsement of you by one person to another.
Let us now discuss the importance of the LOR and how to get the perfect one.
What is the importance of the LOR?
Let’s put it this way. When you are purchasing a product online, be it a mobile phone, a book, or an article of clothing, you tend to read the reviews of the product before placing an order to ensure that it is of good quality. In the crudest of terms, the LOR is akin to such a review.
The professors of the university read the LOR and are guaranteed of your character, your performance as a student or employee, and generally get a picture of who you are, and how you will contribute to the university. Most universities take a holistic approach to evaluating your application; that is, they try to understand you as a person and not just the sum total of your marks and grades. The LOR thus helps the universities filter the most promising candidates out of a pool of similarly qualified students.
Hence, it is crucial that the LOR not only paints a glowing picture of you but is also written by someone who knows you well.
How should I pick my referee?
As important as an LOR is, it is equally important that your referee is someone you have known and worked or studied with for at least six months. Generally, the LOR creates a good impact if it is written by a person in a senior position. Depending on whether you are a student or a working professional, there are different approaches you can take to narrow down the ideal referee. After all, you do not want to jeopardize your LOR and your future by picking the wrong referee, do you?
If you are a student:
Your LOR has more worth if it is written by a senior staff member, like the Head of the Department. Try to pick a professor who knows you well and has taught you for a long time. It is better if you have done any projects or research work under their guidance since that adds value to the LOR.
Avoid choosing temporary or ad-hoc professors as referees unless absolutely necessary. There are several reasons for this.
One, the LOR is generally written on the official letterhead of the college or the university, and this letterhead is only given to permanent members of the staff. Of course, you can submit the letter without the letterhead, but remember that the letterhead imparts a stamp of authority and authenticity to any document.
Second, there is always a chance that the admissions office could contact your referee to clarify some aspect of the letter. If this happens and your referee is no longer working at your college, it could seriously affect the veracity of your letter.
Third, it is highly unlikely that an ad-hoc professor would know you as well as a permanent staff member does. Usually, it is recommended that the letter be written by a highly qualified person. So if your referee of choice happens to hold a Ph.D. or an MPhil, you are in luck!
Lastly, it is important that your referee is someone you get along very well and have a great rapport with.
If you are a working professional:
We advise you to pick your employer as a referee only if you have graduated from college a long time ago, which would it make it difficult to approach your ex-professors. If you must get the letter from an employer, think about how appropriate their reference could be to your application, since they have no idea about your academic potential and thus will not be able to comment on the same.
Asking for reference letters from a boss or a superior can be stressful, but if done right, it can do wonders for your application. Ideally, the person you are directly reporting to makes for the best referee, since they know you on a personal level. It is better if the person you are choosing as a referee is someone you have worked with for a long time and with whom you have done important projects or fieldwork with, as that is an evidence of your hard work, perseverance, punctuality, and team spirit.
Admission Tip: Getting an LOR from a senior official/professor who may have studied at a top US university or even worked there for some time can prove to be invaluable to your application. It increases familiarity and establishes credibility in the minds of the admissions officers, thereby putting you in a favorable light.
What should my LOR cover?
The relationship between the referee and you must be explicitly clear from the very first line. For example, start with “I am an associate professor in the department of electrical engineering in XYZ College, of which he was a student.”
Make it a point to highlight your achievements in the relevant subject or field. If you scored a cent percent on a test given by that professor, mention that very clearly. It always pays to be an achiever.
Who are you as a person? Are you friendly, kind-heated, passionate, candid, or perhaps extremely hard working? Never forget to mention these in your letter, for your personality traits matter just as much as your academic ones.
Your extracurricular achievements, including sports, dance, music, and drama. Remember, universities seek well-rounded persons, and your extracurricular activities are essential to that. Similarly, if you have contributed in any capacity to your college or student community (by volunteering, organizing events, participating in clubs and societies etc.), be sure to mention those in your letter too.
A mention of your career goals, however briefly, should be made. The LOR should be as introspective as it is forward-looking.
The referee’s contact details, including email address and phone number, must be stated at the very end.
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