Admission Guides > 4. Application Process > Recommendation Letter Guide

Recommendation Letter Guide


Recommendation letter should be written by the people who are going to sign the letter. Recently students have started writing recommendation letters by themselves which is not a good practice and will instead get you in trouble. Recommendation letters are taken very seriously by the admissions committee, they are read and re-read and then discussed. Admission decision can be taken or revoked based on your recommendation letters. Suggested layout of a recommendation letter is described below.

Step 1: Opening Paragraph

Opening should indicate general but not excessive warmth for example “I am writing this letter on behalf of XYZ” and follow is by some explanation about who you are and how you know the prospective student for whom the letter is being written, for how long do you know the student and in what capacity. Then go on to compare the student in terms of discipline and topical/thematic focus. For example, “XYZ was among the top young phycologists in our department and shows a great deal of promise.” Sufficient description of the research work should be provided, dissertation/thesis can also be used. The most important things a letter does is it provides a context on candidate’s research in awider scope.

Step 2: Second Paragraph

Second paragraph should continue and reassure that dissertation is almost done and that the book manuscript will be forthcoming. Pace of work and productivity are of paramount importance here. The main idea is to represent the candidate as a soon to be scholar rather than a graduate student to stir some interest.

  • Evidence should be provided for the aspiring success of candidate in the profession. Grant support, awards, publications associated with the primary research should also be mentioned here. Conference activity can also be mentioned here.

  • Next steps required in the research for the candidate should also be mentioned so that the committees feel reassured of commitment and long term goals.

  • Specific attributes of the discipline for example the country of research, language fluency, technical skills and other similar things should also be mentioned.

  • Teaching abilities of the candidates are also worth mentioning with specific examples if possible.

  • Ability to assist in other tasks and not just the research work should also be mentioned here. As sometimes committee is concerned that research work will overwhelm the candidate and he will not be able to serve as a helping hand in other tasks in the department.

Step 3: Final Paragraph

  • Should include a brief comment about his character and personality. Attributes like resourcefulness, responsibility, good humor, organization, energy, etc can be included.

  • Last sentences should includethe gist of the letter and final recommendation sentence with a sentence to contact the writer of the letter if any additional information or clearance is required.

General Guidance:

  • It should be at least two single spaced pages long.

  • It should be on a letterhead.

  • It should not depict any emotions.

  • It should stay strictly at the level of evidence and substance.

  • It should not rely on cheap and empty adjectives such incredible, remarkable, extraordinary, amazing, etc.

  • It should not include praises like (“XYZ is one of the better graduate students we’ve had in the department ever”)

  • It should emphasize depictions of the candidate as a professional scholar, NOT a graduate student.

  • It should remember to include the wider context, providing a discipline-level view of the candidate’s accomplishments and promise.

  • It should provide specific information or examples about research, argument, methods, teaching, or service and should not be vague.

  • It should be written in a positive note. Click here to read more about Guidelines for writing reference letters and click here to view a Recommendation Letters Sample