The LOR Conundrum | The Bootcamp
January 29, 2017

The LOR Conundrum

The LOR Conundrum

We’ve all had our share of struggles with the recommendation part of any application. In this post, we look to answer some of the common troubles that come with an LOR, from the age of problem of who you should pick as your recommender to having an honest conversation about your expectations from the LOR.

Who do I pick?

When you look around for options at work or in college, it’s easy to jump to the big boss straight. What could go wrong when your recommender carries clout? Sadly, the truth is far from this. Most universities may be impressed by a powerful designation at first but will be quick to see through an empty LOR.

Your big boss may out of courtesy agree to write you a recommendation but it holds little value if it’s all praise without much substance.

Ask someone who knows you well-An immediate senior at work or a prof whose class you shined in, so that your letter provides a vivid sense of what distinguishes you as an applicant and suggests a number of questions that could be the basis of a productive interview.


How do I make mine a winning recommendation?

No matter who you pick as your recommender, make sure you are the coach though the entire process. Set up time to discuss exactly what matter you want to put in the letter.

Your LOR needs to be aligned with course that you are applying for, for instance if you’re applying for a master’s in MIS, the LOR should highlight that you have an analytical and technical bent of mind. It should include anecdotes of when you have displayed these qualities. Examples are the key to a successful LOR.

The letter should provide some context of how the writer knows you—class, research, work, civic, or other context—and for what period of time the writer has known you. The LOR should show that the writer knows the applicant personally. For example, incidents or actions that are unique to this relationship are more credible than information that could be gathered from the resume.

Quantitative remarks and percentages are useful: “among the three best students I have taught,” “top 5% of students in my 20 years of teaching.” The strongest comparisons have the widest reach: “among the best in my x years of teaching” is stronger than “the best in his/her section.”

Another facet that the letter should cover is your personality traits, it makes you look more human. Make sure to let your recommender know of any community service that you may have been a part of. Even a simple story about how you helped out a colleague in need and kept the team going can make a world of a difference.

What do I do if my recommender asks me to write the LOR myself?

This may seem intimidating at first, but take a deep breath because this situation is a lot more common than you’d think.

To start with, list out all your achievements. Pick out the ones that are aligned to the course you’re applying for. This part isn’t too hard if you are done working on your application. An LOR is only a validation of your application.

The next bit is slightly tricky, you need to think like a supervisor. See how your achievements impacted the world around you. What change did you bring about in the bigger picture? How did your work influence those around you?

Then start writing. The biggest mistake we make is that we write it and send it as it is but you need to know that ad-coms are smarter than this. They pick up on writing style and if your LOR sounds like you, they are going to be left unimpressed.

Discuss your LOR with your recommender, feel free to make changes as he suggests. You can also ask your friends to read and critique it. Taking help from a professional can work wonders too.


Another useful tip is to waive your right to see the recommendation in case you get admitted. This helps because the recommender knows if you have waived the right or not. If you don’t waive your right, to the ad-coms it may seem as though you have indirectly influenced the write to be favorable to you. Waiving your right gives the recommendation more credibility over-all.

Keep in mind these nuances and you’re sure to rise to success!