Because of the highly competitive applicant pool, letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in admissions decisions across good universities. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can show impressive characteristics beyond their own self-advocacy.
Here are some guidelines on writing a good recommendation letter
What’s the difference between a letter of recommendation and a reference letter?
In the application requirements, you’ll either be asked to provide letters of recommendation or reference letters. You might think that they are one and the same. Sometimes even universities think so. But, in theory, the two are very different.
1) A “letter of recommendation” is required explicitly by an academic programme 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.
2) A “letter of reference” is often given directly to you by the referee and you can keep it for future use. Such a letter is normally addressed as “To Whom it may Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam”.
This is why the recommendation letter is most often required by universities. It is personal and should speak of you in relation to their specific programme.
Who should you ask for a letter of recommendation for your application?
The short answer is that it depends on the programme you are applying to. Sometimes universities explicitly ask recommendation letters only from professors, or from both professors and employers.
If you have to provide a recommendation letter from a teacher, this document should focus on your academic skills and achievements. If you have to submit a reference letter from an employer, universities expect that letter to reflect skills that are relevant for your degree.
What’s the structure of a recommendation letter?
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:
1) 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.
2) Content – Your referee will argue why they think you are the best candidate for that Master’s programme, mentioning your educational background, activities, and relevant personality traits.
3) Closing – Your referee needs to add a strong closing statement which vouches for your application, followed by a standard closing phrase and, his name, contact details and signature.