Among the admission requirements you will need to write academic recommendation letters for overseas programs. Keep in mind this is one of the most important documents that is considered by the Admissions Office during their decision process.
Therefore, if you are not sure what information an academic recommendation letter should contain, here are some tips.
1. What is an academic recommendation letter? Academic recommendation letters are written references that will be required during the application process to a program overseas, whether undergraduate or graduate these letters will be part of your presentation to the university of choice. Academic recommendation letters can be an important factor in the success or failure of your application, since for the Admissions Offices, this is a way of getting more information about you, your character and the way you have succeed in your previous studies, and know other academic perception of your work. Academic recommendation letters are also very useful when you want to apply for a scholarship program.
2. How many letters should I submit? Normally, international institutions will request two or three academic letters of recommendation. At this point it is very important that you consider each letter as a unique piece. Although the letters will contain some common information like your academic background, each letter must be unique, showing the academic referee’s perspective on your work and some evidence of your skills. Also, keep in mind that if you apply to more than one program abroad, you must make sure that your recommendation letters show relevant skills in relation to the program requirements.
3. Who should be my academic referee? This is one of the most important aspects of academic recommendation letters. Many times we have the misconception that the best recommendation letters are those from people in high positions, no matter if they don’t know very well our work or have little knowledge about our academic history. The reality is that international institutions do not appreciate this type of letters and instead look more for academic recommendation letters from the candidate’s teachers or academics, regardless their position, know your work well and therefore can provide references on academic work you've done with them. Thus, a good academic referee could be your dissertation supervisor or a teacher you've done a research project with or any sort of academic practice. In some cases, the institutions allow you to have as referee, someone who has worked with you, especially, your direct boss.
4. What should it say? Another vital aspect of academic recommendation letters is its content. More than showing you've been a good student and you got good grades in your academic life, recommendation letters must validate the personal qualities and academic skills that make you the ideal candidate for the program you are applying for. The letter must be written with a positive and enthusiastic style, and must contain the basic information of your academic referee, explaining the academic context in which you both work together. Back to the candidate description, the referee should emphasize your personal qualities, social skills, intellectual skills, work habits and highlight the preparation that you have had over time that makes you an excellent candidate for the program. With this, the Admissions Office will have a clear idea of your knowledge, previous experience, and what potential you have and how you could contribute to the program and the institution to which you are applying for.
It is also important to know that some institutions request forms to be attached with the recommendation letters. Although in some cases they could ask for the same information stated in the recommendation letters, the information in your letters should always be unique and has a bit of personality.
5. What is the right length? Believe it or not, very short letters of recommendation are not appreciated by the Admissions Offices. As you know, the recommendation letters must contain all possible information to support your application and show that you are equipped to take on this new challenge and succeed in it. Therefore, we suggest that your recommendation letter should be as descriptive and explicit as possible; your academic referee should show confidence in you and your abilities. Keep in mind that although the content is much more important than the length, a good academic recommendation letter should be at least 1.5 pages.
6. In what language should it be written? One of the main concerns of Latin American students when applying to programs overseas is in which language the letters should be written in. It is important to highlight that you should always ask the teachers and professors that know you well, emphasising that they must be clear and give as much information about you as they can. If your academic referee is not able to write the letter in the language of the country of the program you are applying for, do not worry; ask them to write the letters in their native language and then you can request a translation to an official translator in your country. Remember that it is unethical for you to write the letters of recommendation, and that during the admissions process many institutions contact the academic referees and verify information. Similarly, it is not advisable for you to translate the letters as it is always better to have an official translator to do so.
7. How should I apply? Once you have decided to apply to a program overseas, it is important to verify with the institution if you are required to include the recommendation letters along with your application form, and if so, how many. After you know this information, you should start thinking about the most suitable academic referees for you. Once you have that clarity, we suggest that you contact them and request the letters. Thus, it is important that you inform your academic referees about the program you are applying for and your expectations with it. Similarly, talk with them about the work you have done with them and how this can support your application process. Although you should not tell your academic referee the exact information you want to include in the letter, you can suggest the subjects you would like to highlight in your candidature. It is important to have in mind that teachers and academics are busy people, so try to request your letter in advance and provide all relevant information to make it easier for them too. All this will help you not to be worried at the last minute.