Unlike in India, where the word 'recommendation' is understood negatively, U.S and other countries' universities seek and value the recommendation of several people in order to determine applicant's admission chances.
Recommendation letters are normally required to be submitted by almost all applicants at the Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral level. Recommendations play a key role within the decision-making process. An applicant might complete his application carefully, could have done his Statement of Purpose/Essays well, but if the recommenders do not provide a good insight on the applicant, it is most likely that he or she would be rejected for admission into good universities throughout the world. Hence, a strong and appropriate recommendation by the right people makes or breaks an applicant!
Who should recommend?
Depending upon the level of study, recommendations could be made by,
1) For admission at the Bachelor's level - Lecturers, who has taught the student in key subjects or specializations and has a good insight on the strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.
Principal or head of the Institution - who may or may not have taught the student directly. Since classes 11thand 12thare taught in smaller colleges mainly, some heads do teach the wards and/or knows the student (the applicant) well. Their recommendation will be useful.
2) For admission at the Master's level - Professors/Teachers could provide their insights into the academic performance, co and extra-curricular activities of the applicant.
Guides, who have supervised the student in their project work, within the college or an institution could also provide an effective recommendation since that reflects on the practical skills of the applicant in a perceived work-place.
It is important not to seek a recommendation from the head of institution in such cases since the head may not be aware of applicant who is one among several hundred/thousand students of his college/university.
In case of applicants who have work experience, it is best to seek at least one or two academic recommendations from the college/university and one from either the immediate supervisor or the overall 'boss' in the work place. However, if there is a huge gap between college and the present application, most appropriate recommenders could be the supervisors and the applicant's peer , who will have the opportunity of observing the applicant as a team member within the organization.
3) For admission at the Doctoral level and beyond - Strong academic recommendations coupled with work-place supervisors form the key recommenders. More than for any level, doctoral applicants are heavily dependent on recommendations for admission.
What constitutes a 'good' recommendation?
Any recommendation must logically cover the following five points, in order to make them effective and 'good'.
1) How the applicant is known to the recommender and in what capacity. For example, 'as a student of his 4thsemester electronics class' etc.
2) Observation of academic and non-academic skills of the applicant with a critical acclaim - to show that the recommendation is unbiased.
3) Ranking the applicant comparatively, within his class or college, amongst his fellow-students.
4) Indicating strengths and weaknesses of the applicant in any area - academic or non-academic - and how that could be overcome by the student.
5) Finally, recommending the applicant for admission into the chosen program, with or without aid. This is crucial, since some universities are known to make decisions on financial aid, based on strong recommendations (of course, after considering several other factors!)
It would be best to provide the recommendation on the letter-head of the person concerned or at least of the college/organization of the recommender.
Please ask your recommender to include his/her contact details (email, phone and mailing address) within the recommendation itself. Some universities might verify if the recos. are 'truly' made.
Ensure that the recommendations are placed in envelopes, sealed properly and signed by the recommender across the flap. Also, it would be appropriate to indicate the name of the Department and the University for whom the reco. has been prepared.
In addition to recommendations, a winning application essay/SOP plays an equally crucial role in admission. Click here for information.