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Recommendation Letter

Your recommendations are important because they verify your claims and provide the admissions committee an opportunity to learn more about you from people you have worked closely with.   Hence, good recommendations can serve as a powerful tool to ‘sell’ yourself to the committee. We list here the common issues:

Why are Recommendation Letters important?

Every part of your application, builds an image of your personality in the minds of the admissions committee. The recommendation letters provide a third person’s perspective on the kind of person you are. What a recommendation letter writes about you should add or supplement what you claim to be through your essays/SOP and work experience details. It certainly would create doubts about you as a person if the image that your recommendation letter creates completely inverts the image that you’ve been trying to create through your essays/SOPs and work experience details.

The one simple way to make recommendation letters contribute to your admission process is to keep your application straight and honest. Present the facts as they actually are - be truthful about every claim you make in every aspect of your application.

There is one thing that you certainly can do and that is to choose the people who can recommend you judiciously. Choose a person who knows you well and likes you as a person and then ask him/her to give a fair assessment of you as a person in the recommendation letter.

Your application form will give you details about the recommendation letters you are required to submit. The number of recommendations and from whom - whether from your work or from your school or both.

Choosing Your Recommenders

Business Schools: Most schools require 2-3 recommendation letters.  Choosing the appropriate mix of recommenders largely depends on the program you are applying for.   For an MBA program, two recommendations from work and one from school is generally a good balance.  If the school asks for only two recommendations, it would be advisable to get both work related. As far as possible, it is advisable to get one recommendation letter from your immediate supervisor.  However, if it is not possible, then a former supervisor would be a good choice.  As a last alternative, you could use a colleague who has worked closely with you.  It is not advised to apply without a recommendation from your current job place. For more details, check out the recommendation letter section on the MBA channel.

Graduate Programs: For an MS or Doctoral program, you should get atleast two recommendations from your professors.  If you have performed research or worked on thesis, it is highly recommended that you get the reference letter from your Advisor.   If you worked for a company either full time or as a summer intern, you could take one letter from your immediate supervisor.

Undergraduate Programs: For candidates applying for an undergraduate program, very few schools ask for a recommendation letter.  If asked, you should get it from one of your favorite teachers in school.

Some other points to keep in mind while choosing your recommender:

  • Choose people who know you well. Rather than choosing a famous person who has no intimate knowledge of your skills and abilities, it is much more powerful to use a person who can illustrate your strengths and show you at your best.
  • Choose people who really like you.  It is important that a recommender invests time in writing your recommendation.  A person who likes you will take out the time as well as put a positive spin on your qualities.
  • Choose people who can address more than one key criterion: your business and managerial skills,  intellectual ability, leadership potential, maturity, work ethics etc.
  • Give your recommender an outline of the assignments you have handled at work. Include in the outline some suggestions on how he/she might address specific issues such as analytical ability, integrity, intellectual curiosity etc.

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