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Sugandhi Sood

Study Abroad Expert

Letter of Recommendation, commonly known as LOR, is a document that highlights an applicant’s suitability for admission to the chosen program and university. It is a mandatory requirement for courses like MBA, MS, Computer Science, etc.

Before discussing different aspects of a Letter of Recommendation for student, let’s answer a few commonly asked questions around it:

  • How is a LOR different from an SOP? One of the major differences between a Statement of Purpose and a LOR is that while the former is written by applicants themselves, the latter is written by someone else.
  • Who writes a LOR? Depending upon the type of recommendation/reference required, LOR can be written by a Supervisor, Professor, Employer, or Counsellor. In some cases, students may have to ask their peers/colleagues to write a reference letter for them.
  • What is the ideal length of a LOR? While there is no stringent word limit prescribed in a format for Letter of Recommendation, an ideal word count is 500-600 words. Unless otherwise specified, recommenders should complete their reference letter within one side of single A-4 size page.
  • Why do you need a recommendation letter? Of all the documents submitted during the admission process, it is an LOR that offers the admission committee an outside perspective of an applicant’s personality traits, achievements, and commitment towards studies.
  • How to Ask for a Recommendation Letter? The best way of approaching a recommender is via email or phone call. Ask them politely and provide all necessary details such as submission guidelines, requirements, etc. Also, while asking for a LOR, don’t forget to point out any specific skills and achievements you want them to highlight.

Now that we have answered a few common questions in brief, let's discuss various aspects of a Letter of Recommendation for student in detail.

LOR: Academic VS Professional

Types of Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

Based on what you have accomplished and what you are doing, universities ask you to submit an Academic LOR or/and a Professional LOR. Often, graduate courses in the field of management, engineering, medicine, and education, etc require both academic as well as professional LORs.

The academic reference letter is for the performance demonstrated in the schools and colleges. A letter of recommendation from an employer is known as a professional LOR and highlights performance in a work environment.

Academic LOR vs Professional LOR

Graduate courses in the field of management, engineering, medicine, and education, etc require both academic as well as professional LORs. The academic LOR is for the performance demonstrated in the schools and colleges whereas the professional LOR highlights performance in a work environment.

Criteria Academic LOR Professional LOR
Writers Professors/ Teachers/Counselors of previously attended institutions Supervisors/Managers/ of companies or organizations where the applicants worked or did internships
Written on Official letterhead of the institution providing the education. Letterhead of the company or organization in which the applicant worked.
Required for All programs Mandatory only for specific courses like MBA, MEng, Medicine, Education, etc
No. of Letters Required 2 to 3 1 to 2
Skill-Sets to Focus On Academic performance and the ability to grasp difficult concepts. Professional behavior, team-work, and leadership qualities, etc.
Interests Academic and Research Go-getter and Commitment towards the society and country
Overall Behavior Towards academics, initiatives, the ability to succeed in studies. Towards work, problem-solving, endurance against practical difficulties
Achievements Academic performance, student organizations and clubs participation Companies and real-life situations.
LOR: Structural Guidelines

Format for Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

Reference letter is always submitted in a form of a letter discussing the applicant’s qualifications, skills, strengths, and weaknesses. A typical letter of recommendation format comprises of three sections divided into five paragraphs:

  1. Introduction (one paragraph)
  2. Information on applicant’s skills and Quality (Three paragraphs)
  3. Conclusion (one paragraph)

Content of a Letter of Recommendation

Basic information on how to submit recommendation letters to universities abroad are:

  • Recommender relationship with the student
  • Duration and nature of the relationship
  • Details about student and student performance (that is; potential research topics, student's potential, professionalism, interpersonal and leadership skills, passion for the field, personal characteristics, and other specialties specific information)
  • Proof of relevant work experience
  • Past and current achievements
  • Analytical ability and critical thinking
  • Academic and extracurricular potential and activities
  • Zeal, passion, motivation, and commitment towards the intended program
  • Uncertified or certified skills relevant to the program applied for
  • Factors that may affect the applicant's performance
  • Information on how the applicants fare against contemporaries

Based on these, check out a Letter of Recommendation format which is generally used by professors/supervisors/guidance counselors:

LOR: Requirements for Top Courses

Letter of Recommendation: Variation among Top Courses

While the basic guidelines for academic and Professional letter of recommendation for student remain the same, the requirements and prompts vary from course to course. The requirements and structure for a few top courses are given below:

Criteria Number of LORs Type of LORs Word count Theme
LOR for MS Three At least 2 Academic LORs 500-600 words Emphasize on academic achievements, capabilities, interests, and career goals
LOR for MBA Two to three At least 1 Professional LOR 500-600 word Highlight problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, strengths and areas of improvement
LOR for PhD Two to three Academic LORs 500 words Talk about knowledge of subject, prior research & publications, academic performance
LOR for UG One or two Academic LOR 400-500 words Academic achievements and relationship with peers should be highlighted
LOR: A Sample

Letter of Recommendation (LOR) Sample

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am happy to recommend XXXX for a master's in Business Administration at your renowned institution. My name is XXXX and I had been associated with him xxxx for the past two years as a Professor of business studies and international trade. I first met him when we organized a mega-conference for orientation of students with international university delegates around three years back but I started teaching him in the second year of the course.

It is recommended that he should be favorably considered for his admission to master's degree a he is a very dedicated, and bright student. Though he was a student of management he always participated in all the events held at the college and left everywhere in one way or another. In management events, he was an active participant but for science fairs and art exhibitions held in college, he participated in the organizing committee from the student council side and emerged as a problem solver at practical crucial times. He has marvelous communication and leadership skills and fits in a team with similar ease.

In the final year of the degree, we gave a choice of a research-based project to students and he was one of those few who opted for the same and was the only one to complete the project with all the details while following the mentor’s guidance and advice. He is also very good at declamations, debates, and dramatic and likes to do his homework before stepping into any area or activity undertaken.

He is a go-getter and inspires others by setting examples. His academic record is brilliant and so is the co-curricular activities portfolio that speaks for itself. He likes to compete with himself and believes in getting better in every sphere of the academic and non-academic arena. He helps his peers without any insecurity and possesses outstanding interpersonal skills and the ability to lead.   

His vision to create a business model that can be easily replicated in the area of providing food to the marginalized won him that best award from WHO in an event held at our college just three months ago. He is a meticulous planner and constant achiever.

I strongly recommend his admission application and would like to answer any query that can prove to be helpful in fulfilling his dream to get higher education in the area of XXXX.  

Professor ABC


XXXX University

Tel.: +XXXX

E-mail: XXXXX@mail.com

LOR: Writing Tips

Letter of Recommendation (LOR): How to Write?

Getting an LOR from your employer or professor might not seem a difficult task as these people have known you for a respectable period of time. However, it is important to ensure that the letter of recommendation format they provide you is impressive and serves the purpose.

Some of the tips to get an impressive letter of recommendation for student is:

  • Check the university guidelines: Sometimes universities ask the recommender to adhere to a specific structure both in terms of submissions as well as in terms of content. For instance, an LOR for Ireland is to be submitted along with the application form, whereas, LORs in the USA are majorly submitted by recommenders separately.
  • Tone and Theme of the LOR should be consistent: Recommenders must ensure that they do not use contrasting tones while writing a letter of recommendation. Furthermore, it should include both strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.
  • Starting with a good introduction: It is a good practice for recommenders to start the letter with a few lines of introduction about themselves, the professional capacity they are serving in currently, and also the years of experience they have. Furthermore, the introduction should establish a relationship between the candidate and the recommender.
  • Focus on journey and not just milestones: Recommenders often make the mistake of singing praises of their candidates without backing them up with real examples. The best practice is to objectively lay out the skills and strengths of the applicant and include relevant examples of the same. For example, if you believe your candidate has good leadership skills, describe a real scenario where he/ she volunteered to take responsibility, and demonstrated leadership qualities.
LOR: Common Mistakes

Common Mistakes to Avoid while Writing a LOR

There are quite a few common mistakes which both recommenders or the students asking for a recommendation must avoid. Following are some tips to submit a great LOR by avoiding those common mistakes: 

  • Using dishonest means: It is very tempting to buy a letter of recommendation nowadays, especially online. However, it would be wise to not fall into these traps. Universities use extremely sophisticated plagiarism detection software, experienced admissions counselors.
  • Approaching the wrong recommender: Remember to only ask for recommendations from people who have interacted with you recently in a professional or academic capacity. Ideally, you should ask for recommendations from teachers who have guided you in some research/ practical capacity or from former supervisors at the workplace.
  • Not giving your recommender enough time: Recommenders are often busy professionals with tight schedules, therefore, you should always approach recommenders around 3-4 weeks in advance. Furthermore, you should regularly check-up with your recommenders regarding the status of your LOR to ensure they have not forgotten about the all-important task you have entrusted them with.
  • Not giving your recommender proper guidelines: Don’t forget your professor interacts with 100s of students on a daily basis. And your former manager has tens of employees reporting to him/ her. Take the effort, therefore, to make life a little bit easier for your recommender by updating them with your latest achievements and accomplishments.
  • Exaggerating your strength & achievements: It is important that your letter of recommendation from employer or professor includes both your strengths and weaknesses. Often recommenders focus only on the applicant’s strengths and forget to mention areas of improvement. However, universities tend to appreciate constructive criticism, and including them only serves to make the recommendation more genuine and sincere.

The importance of a letter of recommendation cannot be over-emphasized as this letter convey far more about a candidate than grades, scores, and class rank. In most cases, the admission committee uses the information enshrined in the letter to learn more about the student’s technical abilities, empirical knowledge, interpersonal skills, and professional attributes: qualities that simply cannot be conveyed on an academic transcript.

LOR Faqs


Ques. What are essential components of an impressive letter of recommendation?

Ans. An impressive letter of recommendation comprises of details like

  • your name
  • connection with the student you are recommending
  • their qualifications, strengths and skillset
  • your feedback on their potential 
  • their suitability for chosen program
  • contact details

If a professional or academic LOR comprises of these elements, then it is undoubtedly an impressive letter of recommendation.

Ques. How does a LOR vary across countries?

Ans. The letter of recommendation requirements varies across university and by extension across countries. The requirements vary in terms of a number of LORs, submission guidelines, template, type of LOR, etc. Therefore, students are suggested to verify these details before asking for a LOR from a potential recommender.

Ques. How to write a positive academic letter of recommendation?

Ans. A letter of recommendation, academic or potential should incorporate all significant components such as student’s qualifications, strengths, contact details, etc. Talking, specifically about academic LOR, recommenders are advised to share their honest feedback upon the student’s performance during his/her time at the university. Furthermore, recommenders must specify how the applicant will be suitable for the applied program.

For example, if you are writing a LOR for MBAyou must talk about the student’s potential after obtaining the degree and how the student will add value to the chosen university’s student community.

Ques. Do you need to sign the letter of recommendation?

Ans. Yes, every recommender must sign the LOR they are writing for any student. This goes for even those LORs which are submitted electronically and no via post. The signature on the LOR is a sign of authenticity.

Ques. Is there an ideal word count for a LOR (academic and Professional both)?

Ans. While there is no specific word limit on a letter of recommendation, an ideal word count for a LOR should be around 400-500 words.

Ques. Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation for MS program?

Ans. Majority of students require academic LORs for MS programs, there are only a few universities that mandatorily ask for professional LORs. Therefore, students must ask their academic supervisors, professors, counselors, etc.

Ques. Do letters of recommendation expire? How recent should be your LORs?

Ans. Your letters of recommendation should be preferably 1-2 months old only, especially in case of academic letters of recommendation.