Recommendation letters are a crucial piece of your graduate school or Masters (MS) application. An effective letter of recommendation (LoR / LOR) should provide those making admissions decisions with an assessment of your potential as a graduate student and/or researcher. In this post, we will discuss how to ensure a personalized and strong letter of recommendation for MS applications – Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation? How do you ask for a letter of recommendation? What kind of information should you provide for letter writers?
What is a Letter of Recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is a document to verify your skills, character traits, and attitude for the desired program (or maybe a job role). It can also help you gain financial aid or employment as a teacher’s assistant or research assistant at your graduate school.
When you apply for a graduate school program, you typically submit the letter with your other application materials (CV, SoP/essays, transcripts, test scores, etc.).
What is the Need of Recommendation Letter(s)?
Recommendations add credibility to applications, whether academic or non-academic. Universities use recommendations as a validation (by a 3rd party) on your academic potential, technical aptitude, character, intelligence, personality, and dedication. Like SoP (and essays), LoRs can also make or break an application.
Letters of recommendation need to align with the narrative you are putting forward about yourself in your application. More importantly, CV, SoP/Essays and LoRs need to complement each other.
“Instead of looking at the resume, essays and reference letters as standalone components, thinking of them as pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle can help. This would help the applicant plan the entire application in advance, instead of assuming that a sharp and coherent picture will appear magically at the end.”– Sameer Kamat, Founder, MBA Crystal Ball (Source: Business Becase)
Who Should you take LoR from?
Several applicants ask us this single question – whome to choose as my referee or recommender.
- Try creating a list of several people you work closely with either in college or work. Consider who you think recognizes your work ethic and who can write a positive review of your accomplishments.
- If you’re an undergraduate student, you may choose to ask a few of your professors or an academic advisor to write your letters.
- If you’re no longer in college, you may want to ask your manager and a colleague to write your letters. You might also consider a volunteer organizer or club president to write a letter for you.
Choose People Whom You Value or Idolize
- Choose people whom you value and/or who have inspired you. For example, if you’ve asked your Finance professor to write a letter for your Master of Business Analytics program application, you could explain how their classes inspired you to pursue an advanced degree in the field.
- Similarly, maybe you are from an Electrical-Electronics background and you are applying for MS Data Science. You should then approach the faculty member who taught you algorithms & data structures or linear algebra.
- Consider including specific examples of insights they provided you to show how impactful their guidance has been.
- If you’ve chosen an employer or coworker, you can discuss how your opportunity with them helped you grow as a professional. You can highlight the skills they’ve helped you develop or the support they’ve given you as you find your ideal career path.
Relationship and Personal Equation are More Important
- Remember, relationship matters over designation. Your CEO or VP might have a higher designation. S/he might be an alumnus from a top foreign university. But, if the person doesn’t know you well enough, then it will not help your case.
- Similarly, if your HOD hasn’t taught you for a couple of semesters or supervised you on a project, s/he might not write too much about your performance, ability, and aspirations.
- Lastly, your professor should be able to pick you out from a class full of students’ faces. You need to be an engaging participant, ask questions, meeting during office hours.
Protip for Academic LOR:
- You may not even be in the top percentile in your class. However, if you have managed to exhibit a keen interest, you can be assured that your professor will know you by your first name.
- Recommendations are given to the most deserving candidate who has regularly displayed an active learning interest.
- So choose a professor who you know well and who can act as a cheerleader for you.
How to Ask a Professor for a Letter of Recommendation?
Once you have shortlisted the persons to approach, follow these steps:
- Mention the schools, and degrees, you will be applying to.
- Provide all the links and login details.
- Share your transcripts, resume, your Statement of Purpose (or essays).
- Let him/her know the details of the order of university deadlines. That way, s/he will know which ones to prioritize first.
- Pro-tip: schedule a meeting (at least virtually) and discuss your motivation behind pursuing the MS degree, your interests & career goals, your strengths, and how the program would help you with your career goals.
- Keep the timeline in mind. Make sure you give your referee enough time to prepare the letter. Give your recommenders at 2 – 3 months’ notice. So, let them know in July or August if you are going to submit the applications in November or December.
- Rushing at the very end will make for a very bad plan and most Professors will either not entertain or might give you a superficial recommendation. After all, you want to give them enough time to write a comprehensive and accurate letter.
- In the end, do thank the Professor and keep him/her in the loop regarding the outcome of the applications.
Example of a request for a recommendation letter for MS
Subject: Letter of Recommendation Request for Jill Smith
Dear Professor Copeland,
I am emailing to request a letter of recommendation for Triton University’s MFA in Visual Arts program for the fall of 2021. I was fortunate enough to take two classes with you—Advanced Color Theory and Contemporary Techniques of Painting—and you mentored me for my final art project. I am excited to build my portfolio and refine my artistic techniques while I earn my MFA in Visual Arts.
Informing about the Target School/Program(s)
After researching many MFA programs, I chose TU’s program because of the school’s philosophy to think creatively and challenge the status quo. I remember you encouraged us to always challenge the rules in your classes, and I think this program will make a great fit for me after taking your influential courses.
Emotional Connect to Get a Perosnlzied LOR
You were the first teacher to help me explore surrealism and abstract compositions. You saw how my work evolved after I found a new art form to pursue. If it weren’t for your encouragement, I would have never entered The Drip 34 painting competition. Because of your encouragement, I placed 3rd in the competition. Since then, I have created a diverse portfolio and grown in confidence. I’m hoping to one day teach other young people how to think creatively and produce inspiring works of visual art.
Heads-up for Deadline
The letter should be mailed directly to Triton University’s MFA program and postmarked no later than November 15, 2021. If you can write the recommendation letter, I will send you a stamped and addressed envelope for your convenience.
Providing Supporting Documents
I have attached samples of my portfolio, my academic transcripts, and a list of competitions I’ve entered, including where I placed in them.
I know you are busy, so I appreciate your time and effort if you decide to write this letter to support my application. Thank you for being such an inspiring professor and artist.
How to Get a Letter of Recommendation from Your Employer?
- Reach out to your immediate supervisor/manager or manager’s manager for Recommendations – The key is to have someone who knows you well and is glad to be your biggest supporter as you move to the next phase of your journey to joining a graduate program. You can also have a LOR from one of your team members to complement a manager’s LOR.
- As discussed earlier, don’t go for the title, go for someone who will spend time providing an insightful LOR. Some who can show they know you well over the last few years to make that recommendation.
- Tell them about your goals and what you would like them to write to support your goals. Letters of Recommendation are confidential so you may not have a full grasp on what is written, but providing a direction helps.
- Provide them with a few examples to show them how you have taken steps and done work to achieve your goals over the last few years. Help them understand why you are looking at pursuing your MS degree and what you want to focus on during your studies.
Personalization is the Key!
- Make sure they write examples to support the good recommendation they are providing. There are thousands of LORs with just general words like “good standing”, and “hard-working”….make sure your LOR highlights only a few of your personal strengths but shows clear examples to support it.
- The majority of the LORs do not do much to help an applicant’s admission chances because they are too general in nature.
- Have your recommender write what you have done at work and how your work supports your aspirations of the graduate degree and interest.
Lastly, give your employer enough time to write your professional Letter of Recommendation.
A good LOR always takes time to write….so give enough notice to your recommender. If you do not receive it within 2 weeks, remind them of it.
What if You Don’t Have a Cordial Relationship with Your Manager or If You Can’t Arrange a Professional LOR from Your Current Workplace?
It might be a case that the work culture at yoru current workplace is not too progressive. If you ask for a LOR for Masters applications abroad, either you will end up with a not-so-good recommendation. Worse, the employer might ask you to leave.
If you are working at your current workplace for a year (or more), ideally, you must provide at least one recommendation from your current firm; if not your boss, then a senior colleague who you are on very good terms with.
However, if everything fails, make sure you clearly explain the choice of your recommender in the Optional Essay – that’s one of the reasons it is there for!
What is an Ideal Content for a Letter of Recommendation (LOR) for MS?
A recommendation letter is a formal letter, so it is not the kind of document to get creative with. Your recommender should respect the following structure:
- A “letter of recommendation” is required explicitly by an academic program and should be sent directly to the university by the professor or employer without you seeing it. The document should be 300-400 words long and should present your character, accomplishments, and abilities from an objective perspective.
- Introduction – Your referee will present themselves and their relationship with you (e.g. professor, employer, etc), as well as their general impression of you and the time they have known you for.
- Content – Your referee will argue why they think you are the best candidate for that Master’s program, mentioning your educational background, activities, and relevant details.
- The third paragraph should include your personality traits, including your strengths & weaknesses.
- Closing -Your referee needs to add a strong closing statement that vouches for your application, followed by a standard closing phrase and, his/her name, contact details, and signature.
- It helps a lot if the referee can add how/why the MS program will be beneficial for your career (in the final paragraph).
Featured Image Source: The Muse