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How to write a Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

How to write a Letter of Recommendation

If you’ve done your homework for an admission application, by now you might have found out that generally you need a Letter of Recommendation (LOR) or sometimes up to three letters. Depending upon what kind of program you’re applying for, you might be asked to submit three academic recommendations. Sometime, you may have to submit two recommendation letters from your professors or instructors, and one from your previous employer or internship supervisor.

Even if it’s not a prerequisite, it’s highly recommended to submit a recommendation letter with your admission application. LOR plays an important role in your admission application, that’s why you might want to learn the art of getting an extraordinary letter.

Sometimes, a letter of recommendation (LOR) and a reference letter are used interchangeably. A reference letter may be generic and made using a template. A recommendation letter, however, is often more personal and detailed because the person writing it is actually recommending you for the position you’re applying for instead of just presenting a reference.

Now I’m not jumping into the details to differentiate the two because universities often use the terms “letter of recommendation” and “reference letter” interchangeably. I’m rather writing down some tips that could come in handy when you’re requesting a LOR and in case you have to write your own letter of recommendation.

First Things First

Decide on your recommendation letters

How you decide on your letters is of paramount importance. Of course, you would like to choose the professor of a subject in which you scored well, but ask yourself for a moment if that person really knows you. I mean your grade for that study course is also mentioned on your transcript; you want to convey a lot more than your grade through that recommendation letter. So, you might want to choose a person who knows you because of your exceptional class participation, a group project or your thesis work.

Furthermore, it’s good if you keep in mind the kind of programs you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a master’s degree, you might want to get recommendation letters for the subjects from your bachelor’s degree that relate to the curriculum of your master’s degree. If you’re applying for a research position, it’s a good idea to get a letter from your bachelor’s or master’s thesis supervisor. Moreover, some universities require a letter that states your ranking in the class. Try to get a letter that evaluates your performance compared to other students.

General vs targeted recommendation letter

You might be wondering if you should get a general recommendation letter and use it for different universities or a targeted letter with the name of the university or study program mentioned on it. Well it depends upon how many universities you’re applying to and your priorities. If you’ve just three to five applications, you may manage to get the targeted recommendation letters but what if you’re applying to a dozen universities.

I’d recommend to get at least one targeted letter per university for two to three universities, which lie on top of your priority list. For the other universities, you could get the general letter. However, if you’re applying to different universities for roughly the same program or specialization, then you could at least mention that interest, if not the name of the university, to make the letter a bit more specific.

How to request a Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

Request well in time

It’s a good practice to request your professors/supervisors well in time to write you a letter of recommendation. They might not process your request on a short notice because they often have a tight schedule. I’d request a letter four to six weeks before the application deadline and this would also give me some time to leave any reminders, if needed.

Preferably request in person

It’s always better to request a recommendation letter in person; drop an email and request an appointment or simply talk to the professor after a lecture. Approach in a way that works best for that professor. Explain politely why you need the letter and when is the deadline. Moreover, inform your professors if you want to receive the letter by email or you need a paper version.

In case the universities you’re applying to require letters directly from your professors, tell them how many letters they’ll be sending. Most of the times, they’ll have to upload the letter to the online portal or send by email. If you already have this information, convey it. Additionally, I’d suggest giving your professor a copy of your CV. Your professors might ask for a copy of your transcript as well so it’s better to have it when you’re visiting them.

How to write a draft for a Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

Writing your own recommendation letter

So, you decided on your letters and have approached your professor to request a recommendation letter. Sometimes, the professor might actually ask you to write a draft and send it to her/him. At this point, you might think like, wait what! I’ll write a draft for my LOR that means I’ll write my own letter. But, don’t be surprised.

Professors might be busy with their work and perhaps many students approach them for a letter of recommendation so they prefer to receive a draft and then make any alterations, if needed. This draft also helps them get an idea about the kind of letter you need. Now that you’ve to write your own letter, avail this opportunity to write a splendid one. It’s, however, advised to bear in mind the ethics of writing your own letter and don’t make it too good to be true. Let’s see how to write a LOR. 

Writing the introductory paragraph of Letter of Recommendation (LOR) 

Before you start writing, you should understand that you’re writing from first person perspective of your professor and you have to refer to yourself as a third person. Mention how your professor knows you; it could be because of a course, project or thesis. Then you could write a few lines about the course content for that particular course or the scope of that project/thesis work. Introductory paragraph should not be very long.

Body of the LOR; the most important part

Discuss your skills and abilities in one to two paragraphs but you should be careful here; don’t simply repeat the points from your CV or Letter of Motivation (LOM). You could mention your exam results depending upon how good you scored. Describe yourself as an extraordinary student as well as an admirable person by writing about your learning skills, class participation, teamwork, leadership and communication skills as well as your ability to work independently.

You may include points like analytical thinking, project planning and the art of presentation. But, don’t write just fancy adjectives without supporting them with specific examples or references because that would sound very unreal. For example, if you mention teamwork then refer it to some group activity you had in that course.

Besides, try to relate your set of skills and abilities to the study program you’re applying for; explain briefly how your personal characteristics will help you excel in that academic environment. Additionally, if the professor knows you outside of the classroom through some on-campus or off-campus activities, for example volunteer work that might help your admission application, you may write about that as well. It’s also important to make sure that you don’t have a lot of overlap between the personal qualities in different letters. Try to convey different characteristics in different letters, unless you want to highlight one specific point through every letter.

Writing the concluding paragraph of the Recommendation Letter

You may conclude your recommendation letter by writing that your professor is highly recommending you for the degree program you’re applying for, for example master’s degree or simply graduate school. You might also want to mention the program and/or the university if you want to make your letter more specific. Put in a nutshell why you would benefit the most from the given opportunity and how might your personal qualities be beneficial for that program or university. For example, how can you create an excellent learning environment for your future colleagues.

It’s recommended to add a line about your professor’s willingness to be contacted if the admissions committee has any questions. This, however, depends upon your professors so it’s better to discuss this point with them. Like the introductory paragraph, keep the concluding paragraph short as well.

Format of Letter of Recommendation (LOR)

Recommendation letter is usually just one page long. Pick a decent font and it would be better if you use the same font as you did in your other documents. Best practice is to have the letter on your university’s official pad that contains the logo and the name of the university. Request your professor to make you the letter on that pad. 

Add the contact details of your professor such as email address, office phone number, office address and/or the address of the faculty or university. Depending upon the common practice at your university, your professor might add or remove some of the contact details. You may also leave these details to your professors and request them to add them, where appropriate. If you want to do it by yourself, you could add it at the top right or sometimes the top left corner of the page; check the format generally used in the country you’re applying in. Your professor might actually add it under her/his name and signature.

Sending Letters of Recommendation drafts 

Once you’re done writing the LOR draft, request your professor for an appointment to discuss it or simply send it by email if she/he advised so. Mention the points regarding the official pad, format and contact details. Attach your CV with the email and/or your transcript. You might want to add that you’re open to feedback and that you won’t take it personally; try to convey the idea that your professor can feel free to make any alterations, if needed. You could also add a humble reminder for the application deadline.

It would be nice if you’d thank your professors in person or at least by sending an email. I’d recommend to thank them once again after you’ve got some admission confirmations and have decided on a program and university. This way you could also inform them about your decision if you wanted to. I believe, it would be a moment of joy for them to see their student achieve her/his goal of pursuing higher education. You could also get some feedback from them before taking a decision.


Your Letter of Recommendation (LOR) plays a vital role in your admission applications. If you need help with writing the LOR draft, check out our Document Review Services.

If you want tips on how to prepare admission documents such as CV, Letter of Motivation (LOM), Letter of Recommendation (LOR) etc., check out How to Study Abroad.

Good luck with your admission applications!

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  • Johnson James 13/01/2018 at 19:12

    Thanks Adi for your supportive E-mail. It’s really helpful regarding LOR write up. I have written so many so far but your E-mail will definitely improve

    my LOR writing skill more. A bunch of thanks for your support dear. May God bless you.

    Kind regards,

    Johnson James

    • Adil Ilyas 13/01/2018 at 19:33

      You’re welcome!

  • Muhammad Umair 21/12/2019 at 14:47

    What a precise and wonderful explanation. May Allah bless you, dear!