Academic letters of recommendation: nail them

When you’ve already planned your next 3-4 years of study, you want to make sure that things work out as you wanted. Sure, you can’t foretell the future, but it’s good to know that your dreams are being heard.

Although some worldwide universities don’t include an academic recommendation in their admission requirements, it’s always a strong ace up the sleeve that you can count on. On the other hand, lots of international institutions ask for up to two academic references from applicants.

What is an academic letter of recommendation?

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An academic letter of recommendation is a letter no longer than two pages, written by school counsellors, professors, education supervisors or anyone who has taken part in the student's educational journey. The aim of this letter is to maximise the chances of being admitted to the university that you’re applying for by pointing out your academic history, achievements and goals.

A recommendation letter weighs a lot when it’s coming from an academic teacher, but, for a few colleges, you might note that even references written by the student’s former employers or people with whom he/she has worked with on various projects are accepted. Institutions want to know more about the students coming to join them, therefore references are important: they zoom in on the student’s character and uncover personality details that grades and test scores can’t.

This being said, you shouldn’t go around asking anyone to write you a letter of recommendation. Teachers you had several years ago shouldn’t be an option unless they had a valuable impact on your recent academic realisations. Remember, it’s best to include relevant information in the letter.

This doesn’t mean though that teachers whom you collaborated with for seminars, workshops, theatre plays, aren’t a good choice. You can also consider speaking to previous employers, advisors who got to know you and were witnesses of your “entrance” in the professional world.

What makes a great academic reference?

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It’s unlikely that a poor recommendation letter will stop you from getting accepted to university if you tick off all their other requirements, but you should always think of boosting your academic image. Don't take any chances, and prepare a top-notch academic letter of recommendation.

The recommendation letters students put in the admissions folder should:

  • present the context of the relationship between the applicant and the one who writes the letter;
  • have a positive feel while offering clear examples to demonstrate each statement;
  • offer details about projects that the student has worked on;
  • highlight academic and professional achievements;
  • gives examples of the applicant’s work;
  • talk about the student’s personality, strengths, career plans and motivations;
  • discuss how the applicant has improved over time and how did he/she overtake disappointments and failures;
  • offer examples of when the student demonstrated enthusiasm and willingness to go the extra mile;
  • mention any astonishing talent or leadership abilities that the student might possess;
  • talk about the applicant’s social skills within the school.

A great academic letter of recommendation should explain why the university will benefit from having him/her as a student, and how the applicant will fit into the university’s community. When everything's ready to go, don’t forget to submit your academic references before the deadline set by the university.

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