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STUDY ABROAD : Applying to University - Must read

What is a letter of recommendation?

What is a letter of recommendation and how do you ask for one? We're here to answer all of your questions...

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When applying to university or college, you will be asked to supply certain documents as part of the process. One component is the letter of recommendation or LOR for short. This is a letter written by someone that can recommend you to the institution you are applying to. Not all universities require a letter of recommendation so you will need to check.


The letter will give the university admissions team some more insights into you as a person and how well suited you would be to the course you are applying for. You might ask a teacher who knows you well and can vouch for your academic abilities, work ethic and personality. In this article we run you through how to ask for a letter and how it should be written.


How to ask for a letter of recommendation

1) Choose someone reliable

First things first, it’s important to ask someone who knows you well and can write with an understanding of who you are. This might be a teacher, mentor or personal tutor. You also want to choose someone who can be relied upon to write the letter in time. You don’t want to be waiting around for months with an impending university application deadline on the horizon. This stress can also be avoided by asking well in advance of sending off your application, so there’s plenty of time for some back and forth.


2) Choose someone who can sing your praises

Make sure you choose someone who likes you and thinks positively of you. This person should have known you for a decent amount of time and can advocate for your strengths.


3) Ask them in private

If possible, asking them in person is preferable for an instant response and a more personal approach. However, you can also email them. Either way, make sure you ask politely and well within time of the application deadline. This way your letter won’t be rushed and the person you’ve asked has plenty of time to write it. If you are asking a teacher, remember that they have busy schedules so will appreciate ample time to get it done.


4) Handle the submission

There may be different submission processes depending on the university. Some might require the recommender to email the letter, in which case they need to clearly outline the students name, course and potentially an application reference number. You can check with the university you are applying to for any specific submission requirements they may have such as the file type that they would prefer to receive e.g. word document/PDF. Other universities may request the letter to be sent by post which may not be the responsibility of the recommender but is instead down to you, although this process is less common.


How to write a letter of recommendation

University or college admissions teams will be looking for specific details in your letter of recommendation. Therefore, it’s important that you know what to include so that your letter is up to scratch.


1) Organise a meeting

Whether in person or virtually, it can be really helpful to meet with the person writing your letter of recommendation. They can ask you questions about your plans for the future and how this relates to the course you are applying for. You, as the student, can also suggest certain points you’d like to be featured in the letter. Although it is up to the recommender as to what they include, they may be open to getting your input.


2) An explanation of their relationship to you

The person you ask to write your letter of recommendation will need to outline how they know you. They should also state how long they have known you and in what capacity, for example as an English teacher or a personal mentor at school. 


3) An understanding of the course being applied for

While your teacher may know you well, they might not know a lot about the specific course you are applying for and your university of choice. Don’t forget that teachers can receive more than just your request for a letter of recommendation so you might need to remind them of the specifics. You could email them the course outline and modules of the course so that they have a clear understanding of what it is you want to do.


Still not sure what course you want to study? See which subjects are most popular among international students for some inspiration.


4) Examples of your suitability to the course and university

It may make it easier to choose a teacher who taught you the subject for which you are now applying for. This way, they can go into depth about your knowledge, experience, and potential within this field. However, this is not mandatory. As long as they can relate their experience of you to the course, that’s all that matters. It’s arguably more important that the teacher/mentor can write a glowing report about you than their knowledge on the subject. Make sure your letter of recommendation also includes specific examples of times when you have performed well. It should describe how you will positively benefit the university and why the admissions team should accept you.


5) Highlight the positives

While grades are an important part of your overall application, your work ethic and other experience may also be considered by the admissions team. If you want to be a vet or a doctor for example, your letter could mention any voluntary work you did at school to further reflect your interest in the subject. You may also have won awards at school or shown massive improvement, these are all points to be included here. The person recommending you should also outline some information about you as a person, how well you worked with others, your organisation skills and ability to meet a deadline.


6) Provide contact information

Make sure the person writing your letter includes their contact details such as email address and/or phone number. This way, the university admissions team can get in touch if they want further information about you.


How long should a letter of recommendation be?

An appropriate word count for a letter of recommendation is between 300 and 400 words and so the writing needs to be concise while including all of the points mentioned above. If the letter is any shorter, it would suggest that your recommender doesn’t know you very well or that it was rushed. Make sure the person you ask knows how long it should be. If asking a teacher, they will generally have prior experience of writing these letters for students.


So now you know how to ask someone for a letter of recommendation and what it should consist of. If you need further assistance with your application, check out our other guide on getting support from an education counsellor.


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