All US institutions ask for mostly three letters of recommendations (LORs) from applicants who wish to study there. Some universities have specific forms which are to be filled by the recommenders. The main aim to ask for a LOR is to attest the candidate’s integrity, ethics and personality, including his work experience, impartiality and equitably. For this, the author of the Letter has to give a fair judgement of the candidate, thus he should be knowing in-depth about the candidate, not just superficially.


A Great Letter is one which fulfills all the purposes, the admissions committee is looking for. It encompasses the applicant’s -

  • Academic and Work/Professional experiences profoundly with specific qualifications.

  • Individual/exclusive attributes of the applicant, which has not been presented anywhere else.

  • The applicants’ potential, his skills, and his commitment towards the tasks he performed and also towards the future career, he forecasts, keeping in mind the course he is applying for.

  • In the similar light, viewing the candidate vis-à-vis his colleagues/peers/candidates from similar backgrounds and similar aims. More or so, a critical appraisal of the candidate.

  • Reiterating with explicit examples of characteristics like leadership, maturity, tenacity, problem solving, innovation and teamwork, which needs that extra “ratification” by a third person.

The LOR is a “Written Testament”, which serves as a full proof, witness of the candidate, thus it is a trustful and factual indicator for the candidate. It carries immense weightage, which, if thoughtfully written can “Make or Break” the admission of the applicant into a particular school.

THE ROLE IT PLAYS - Different Profiles: Different Roles

The Letter, helps or more to say accelerates the chances of getting admission, for broadly two main categories of candidates. The first category are applicants with exceptional grades and scores who have excellent chances of getting into the schools, they are the so called “ideal” candidates which the admissions committee is looking for. The contribution of the LOR here is far-reaching as it has to reinforce the same positive and impressive note about him/her, which the essays and the other parts of his application, including his scores have created. An unenthusiastic and the lackluster LOR here, would have devastating results on the decisions of the admission committee.

There are candidates whose have aggressive grades and scores, but cannot be demarcated from the similar pool, who have good scores. In this pool, the candidates have to make an effort to differentiate themselves by their own unique, compelling stories, whether it is about their exclusive traits, or it's about their community service or its about the contribution they want to make towards the society at large. The LOR’s role here is to substantiate and document these, by the credibility of a third person penning it. Therefore, when the admissions committee is confused between similar applicants, the inherent nature of the Letters of Recommendation (in terms of how they can arrest the reader’s attention/interest and how far can it be memorable) would ultimately decide the fate of the application.

The recommendation letters have no role to play in applicants who have low grades and scores, as though they can explain on the whys of getting a low score, but they cannot fetch a candidate the “cutoffs” which schools usually set.

Incidentally, the Letters of Recommendation, is one key area, which needs a careful planning, initiative and proper execution, so that it yields the best results, for which it is meant, as no other section of the entire application is written by a person other than you. This solely justifies the unbiased nature of it.