Look out for these tips before writing a recommendation letter

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Higher studies abroad is creating an amazing wave in Kerala. Those who aspire to study and do research in the US on a merit basis need to prepare their applications with utmost care. The Curriculum Vitae (CV), personal statement, recommendation letter etc, are of remarkable significance here.

Submitting the recommendation letter in order will increase the possibility of getting admission by several folds. For most of the Masters and PhD programs, they will have to provide two to three recommendation letters.

The Admission Scrutiny Committees of the Universities in the US take a lot of time to study the recommendation letters thoroughly. If you attempt to unnecessarily extol your achievements, it will backfire. Since they are in the practice of reading so many recommendation letters a year, they can easily make out what’s right and what’s wrong. The recommendation letter should reflect your personality, skills, achievements, and the contributions that you can make in the respective fields.

While choosing the referee
Normally, a highly placed academician should be the referee. At the minimum, the referee should be an assistant professor. It is better if one can approach different referees for each recommendation letters highlighting your various qualities – if one refers to the superior ability in research, another one can tell about academic excellence. If you are not able to find a professor for a third letter, you can go to a supervisor in the lab or someone in a senior position.

No need to squander money
"A member of my research team recently revealed his own experience," said Dr Jayan Thomas, famed researcher and professor in nanotechnology, optics and materials department at Central Florida University. He started his efforts to go to the US for higher studies while working in a company in Punjab after completing his Masters degree in Engineering from IIT, Kanpur. He had sent an application to my University too. I then appointed him as the Graduate Research Assistant after closely examining his recommendation letters and other application details.

However, when he informed the colleagues of his company about his selection, someone told him that he was being cheated. They just can’t believe that anyone could be selected for higher studies in the US without spending large amounts of money. I think many of the students in Kerala, too, think along similar lines.

This is not true. You can apply directly to any universities in the US (though it’s true that you need to dole out a small amount as an application fee). The only thing is that the applicants should possess the required qualifications mandated by that particular University. You also need to show a sufficient sum in your bank account as proof that you have enough money at your disposal to complete your studies. However, rarely does there arise a situation where one has to spend this amount.

One can meet their living expense from the stipend or various scholarships being provided for Research, Teaching Assistant posts in Universities. But keep one thing in mind. If you plan to go to the US for higher studies, it’s crucial that you make the preparations for the application process well in advance.

Reference Letter a different thing altogether
Dr Jayan Thomas said that it has come to his notice that the applicants sometimes term the recommendation letter as reference letter. However, both are different. A recommendation letter is directly submitted by a referee (either any of the teachers or senior officials of the applicant) to the institution, while the reference letter is that the applicants submit along with their own applications.

How to write a Recommendation Letter
A recommendation letter has three parts-

The referee should describe in the first paragraph how he/she knows the applicant. It augments well if the referees introduce themselves. It will help the Admission Scrutiny committee to easily determine the qualification of the referee to write the recommendation letter.

Write about the academic activities done by the student and the referee together in the next few paragraphs. The referee can highlight qualities of the student like teamwork, cooperation, leadership ability, and responsibility undertaking. For instance, if a professor is writing the letter, he/she can brief about the research skill, cooperative attitude, and the contributions of the student towards achieving the research objectives.

The contributions of the student to journal papers published by the Research Group and the thesis and paper presentations made by him/her in various conferences can also be included.

Now, suppose the applicant has not done any research in the Research Lab. In that case, the referee could then mention the student’s experience in associating with any project or internship done in any company in one to two paragraphs.

In the last paragraph, the referee should clearly explain why he/she thinks the student is eligible for admission to the particular University. Besides, the complete contact address and other details to get in touch with the referee should be provided. The referee should also convey his willingness to answer any questions or inquiries relating to the student. It is the responsibility of the student to provide all the necessary information to the referee. The prominent information like the grades obtained, theses published, conferences attended and awards received should be given to the referee.

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