How an LOR for Master’s looks like

According to a report published in 2017 by Institute of International Education (IIE), a little more than 1 lakh students had applied from India to pursue graduate programs in the US. This includes those pursuing Master’s programs in various disciplines, including business and technology.

The importance of LOR

A Letter of Recommendation (LOR) is a vital part of the application process, which can make or break a student’s chances of getting into an institute or securing a scholarship. Shriram Krishnamurthi a Professor at the Computer Science Department in Brown University has written about a student who got into an admirable graduate program in spite of having a score of 2.67 GPA. This remarkable student had written about the reasons that made his score special – he aced in classes that were hard and got bored in classes that weren’t. He explained this with several anecdotes and ensured that his letter stood out.

The LOR can play a critical role in helping to differentiate you among more than a lakh of applicants and have a favorable impact on your chances of getting admitted. The admission team of any institute looks for prospective students who have accomplished academic qualifications, impressive social skills, sound character, and have the promise to succeed. It helps the admission team to have a holistic idea about your personal and professional journeys.

Challenges faced in creating an LOR

Prospective students from India who are planning to pursue a Master’s Degree from the US often struggle with getting the right flavors in their letter of recommendation. This is because their professors or employers may either be used to creating a particular LOR format or may have no idea at all.

Here are some dos and don’ts for an effective LOR.

DOs of LOR

1) Credibility matters

Heard about Blake Gottesman? Without a college degree he managed to get into Harvard Business School largely thanks to a stellar letter of recommendation written by the 43rd President of USA – George W. Bush, whom he served as a full-time personal aide. After graduating from Harvard in 2008, he joined Berkshire Partners, a Private Equity firm based out of Boston, as a senior associate.

Of course, not every applicant may have worked with or been taught by a genial ex-President or Prime Minister willing to write an LOR. But if you have work experience and have interacted with one of the heads of a department – for instance a CTO who is known across the industry, it would be great to secure a letter of recommendation from him.

As a student, if you are able to get the head of department or the Dean of your institute to sign your LOR, it would matter much more than getting your immediate friendly boss or your jovial 11th standard science teacher to do it.

2) LOR shouldn’t conflict with the rest of your application

Jhanvi Khanna is applying for a MS program after working for 45 months in a high growth startup. She has claimed so in her application forms and has been savvy enough to get a glowing LOR from the founder of the company – a charismatic gentleman whose success stories have been splashed in newspapers across the globe.

Recommendation Letter Sample:

Recommendation Letter Sample

Recommendation Letter Sample

Can you spot what went wrong?

Jhanvi has claimed that her work experience has been for 45 months. But her CEO has written that she worked for 4 years. One may perceive this as being superfluous, but it is absolutely critical that the information given in your transcripts match accurately with what is written in the LOR.

For sample LORs, check out our eBOOK on “Sample LOR for Top Admits Here”

3) Use impactful language

Visualize that you are going for an interview for a dream job. Are you likely to dress in a jaded pair of clothes along with a pair of old loafers or would you want to adorn yourself with a crisp white shirt and a classical suit with smart, polished shoes?

Rather than using insipid words or clichés, using descriptive vocabulary and engaging phrases in your LOR would ensure that it stands out.

Here are some LOR format samples

For instance rather than writing:

LOR sample writing

LOR sample writing

One can write:

Improved LOR sample writing

Improved LOR sample writing

Yet, one must be careful about a few aspects. One shouldn’t be using phrases that could be misinterpreted. For instance, “He is a perfectionist.” Certain admission officers may interpret this as a sign of narcissism or even having negative social traits.

4) Your letter should be peppered with meaningful anecdotes

Structured LOR letter

Structured LOR letter

Isn’t this a fascinating story? This anecdote  not only brings to light Rajiv’s caliber as a fantastic batsman, but also establishes that he is a young man with robust morality. Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, a story like this illustrates the characteristics of the applicant like nothing else can.

Don’ts of LOR

1) Don’t repeat your resume

Writing a LOR that only repeats what is given in your Resume would certainly inhibit your chances of getting admitted in  MS program. The purpose of the LOR is to sketch your complete personality in the mind of the admission officer without you having to speak a word.

Repeating facts and figures given in your resume would make the admission officer feel that the official who has written the LOR is distant and does not share a healthy relationship with the applicant.

Recommendation letter example:

Example of Recommendation letter

Example of Recommendation letter

2) Spelling mistakes

Spelling mistakes are a big no-no. It may raise doubts about the credibility of the individual who is recommending you.  

3) Politically incorrect language

Today, one has to be extremely mindful about hurting sensibilities. One may inadvertently end up hurting others by using certain phrases or words.


Example LOR

Example LOR

Imagine that the Admission Officer reading this is suffering from Asperger Syndrome. The applicant might have his sympathies but this letter could displace the admission officer’s temperament for a while and impact Aslam’s chances of getting admitted.

The individual writing a recommendation may not be well-versed with the nuances of English Language. But the applicant will have to take special care in ensuring that such sentences are not a part of the LOR, especially if the person offering the LOR is known to have limited command over the English language.

4) The letter is too short

An appropriate letter of recommendation should be around a page long – which means around 500 to 600 words when written on an A4 page. Sometimes, universities may specify the number of words, which makes it easier. A study that assessed several letters of recommendations indicated that the more details there are in the letter, the better is it for the applicant – which meant that as long as the details in the letter are relevant, a longer letter could turn out favorable for the prospective student.

However, a recommendation that is hardly half a page would seem as if it has been forcibly written. A golden rule to keep in mind is that a letter of recommendation should be crisp enough to be captivating for the reader, yet long enough to cover the important parts.

Let us consider another example:

Ideal LOR sample

Ideal LOR sample

Undoubtedly the candidate – Rajiv Joshi has immense potential. Unfortunately, the letter written by his professor seems like a buffet which only served lip smacking soup and delectable starters, but kept the patrons hungry for more.

Check out our YouTube video on Letter of Recommendation for more information.

Conclusion – Preparation, Visualization, and Revision are important

It is important to prepare at least a couple of years prior to creating an effective LOR format. This is because one may still be falling behind on certain parameters, such as academics, professional achievements, personal growth or extracurricular activities. One could start visualizing how one’s LOR format should look like after a couple of years and work on achieving the same. So if your grades are not up to the mark, you could not only work harder to improve your average, but also follow your passion of building robots which you had been procrastinating for long. It is imperative that one doesn’t pursue activities just for the heck of including them in the LOR, as these pursuits wouldn’t last long. One should also recognize the prospective writer of one’s LOR and invest in building a healthy relationship with that person.  Finally, it is important to revise and proof read the LOR multiple times before submission.

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