There are two schools of thought that go behind the importance of a Letter of Recommendation in your application. While some believe that the standardized version of a LOR makes it almost impossible to judge the students’ abilities, while others still believe that because of this very reason, it becomes one of the most deciding documents in your application. They think that often universities go through the LORs to ascertain not merely the validity of the student’s claims but also to judge how the student is perceived by his/her seniors. It is, after all, the only third-party endorsement in the application. All other documents are prepared by the applicant himself/herself. Therefore, the LOR becomes rather important. Yet, students tend to overlook this important document; as a result, while the student might have worked on a brilliant statement of purpose, and a well-crafted resume, but the lack of a convincing LOR, might just ruin his/her chances of making the final cut.
Here are some Common Mistakes to avoid:
Choosing the Wrong Recommender: Before you even think about what qualities to discuss/highlight in your letters of recommendation, you have to analyze and establish who you will choose as your recommenders. Your recommender must be someone, who knows your strengths and is capable of presenting them to the Admission Committee, in the most convincing manner. Choosing a recommender who hardly knows you is the gravest mistake an applicant can make while preparing his/her LOR. An Assistant Professor, who has taught you even one subject during your course, maybe a better choice as a recommender, than the College Principal, who may have just seen you participate in a few events at college. For more details, read How to Choose Your Recommenders.
Not Giving Enough Time to the Recommender: Rushing up your recommender, and yet expecting him to come up with an impressive and convincing recommendation, is one of the most common mistakes applicants commit. Request your recommenders well in advance of your application timeline and keep reminding them after regular intervals. The minimum time you must allocate for your recommenders should be one month. Approaching them at the last minute and forcing them to write your recommendation letter without giving them enough time to study and analyze your candidature would be unfair to your own application. The last minute hurry would definitely reflect on your recommendation, and weaken your chances of getting admission to the university of your choice.
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Not validating your candidature with examples: A LOR devoid of examples/ instances does not hold much value in your application process. A recommender who incessantly praises the applicant in the recommendation letter either simply does not know what an LOR means or he is genuinely hard pressed for time. Either ways, the recommender remains unsuccessful in doling out a convincing LOR and the whole point is defeated. Whenever a recommender praises the applicant in the letter, it must be followed by a particular example/ instance to validate it. For example, if the recommender says that, “ABC is one of the select students who have shown a penchant for application of theoretical concepts taught in the class.” Now, this one is so generic that it hardly contains any worth. What a recommender should ideally do is to back this statement up with an example of any theoretical concept you implemented practically in the class or lab. The recommender should also mention the result of the experiment and what about the instance impressed them. For more, read how to prepare an impressive LOR.
More than anything, what a candidate must ensure is a genuine letter of recommendation. Never agree to provide your recommender with a standard format. Let your recommender share his/ her own perspective about your personality.
Missing out on your areas of improvement: Using too many positive terms, in the LOR, leads to uncertainty and doubt in the mind of the Admission Committee. Nobody is stopping you from using positive words for your candidature but knowing the limit is the key. Also, mentioning only the positive aspects of your personality and omitting the negative traits also does not leave a good impact on the Committee. So, make sure you include at least one weakness of yours in the LOR and for god’s sake, don’t use the clichéd “ABC, being a perfectionist, ends up pressurizing himself as well as his team members.”
Using a Cold Dry Tone While Writing the LOR: Although a LOR is a formal document, the recommender should maintain a level of warmth while preparing it. Using the applicant’s full name at the start of the LOR, followed by addressing them by their first name in the rest of the draft, instead of “the applicant”, is always a good idea.
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