importance of recommendation letter

Why Recommendation Letters are Important For Universities?

As per conservative estimates, approximately 360,000 students from India opted to study at foreign universities in 2015. And this number is 17% higher than what it was in 2014! With such being the number of students rooting to study abroad just from India, imagine the number of applications a college/ university receives from all countries put together.

Universities come under tremendous pressure during the admission season. Selecting a bunch of talented students from thousands of applications is a very challenging task. Scrutinizing piles of documents like mark sheets; mapping of scores in exams like GRE/GMAT; reading each candidate’s statement of purpose; visa applications etc. is very time consuming. What adds pressure to this is the chances of granting admission to an ill-fitting candidate.

It is in this mayhem, that a document called the ‘recommendation letter’, comes to the rescue.

Nowadays, a student’s application to a program is deemed to be incomplete, until it contains at least two letters of recommendation.


So What Exactly is a Recommendation Letter?

A recommendation letter or what is commonly known as reference letter, is a document written by former teacher, school/college authority, a mentor of sort, or any other person (referrer) who has had ample opportunities to have observed the individual (referee). These observations may be over a short course of time; such as teaching a course to the referee or having guided a project to a longer term, such as being the head of an institution during which the referee was a student.

The recommendation letter when written, contains an objective assessment of the student’s (referee) strengths and weaknesses over various instances; and his overall personality as an individual. It also contains a map of the student’s inclination towards learning, academic interests and their ability to absorb and adopt new ideas. This assessment then culminates into the referrer’s personal opinion of the student’s suitability as a candidate for a future study program.


But this leads us to another question.

Don’t we have mark sheets, and entrance / competitive exam scores to help prove how good / bad candidate is?

Well the simple answer to that is this:

Yes, mark sheets do contain scores of a student’s performance in exams. But then, mark sheets alone are rarely ever a fair representation of a student’s capability. Just go and ask a few students who fell ill before a board exam, during a viva or around a journal submission. You shall have your answer.

Universities, now a days, look out for candidates not just for the intelligence quotient but also their emotional quotient. They look for subtle qualities such as empathy, keenness to learn, good decision making skills and leadership skills. They look for individuals who are team players; and ones who remain committed to tasks even when others give up. Individuals who can hopefully make a difference to the world.

And these qualities cannot be identified relying merely on mark sheets! It is here when the importance of recommendation letters come into play. However, there are many rights and wrongs of what a recommendation letter should and should not be, which one must keep in mind.



Reflective, articulate and an avid reader and traveler, I love to soak in new experiences and share them through my love for writing.

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