Thursday, October 7, 2010

Recommendation Letters

Here is one of the most important parts of your admission application. The recommendation letters are given high priority in the admission process. Before I got into the PhD program I wondered why it is so. And above all, when they already have so many parameters regarding your academic ability such as your GRE and TOEFL scores, your undergraduate GPA and statement of purpose

Well, success into a PhD program does not only require academic ability but it also requires a lot of patience and dedication. Let me reiterate, you need to be very patient and dedicated to be successful in PhD program which on average takes 5 important years of your life. Sometimes it can be frustrating and sometimes… I must say it will give you a feeling of pride.

Academic ability doesn’t necessarily show your research capability though they might be closely interlinked with each other. So, here is where the importance of the recommendation comes into the picture. A recommender has to comment on your research capability. He is normally the person who has taught you or guided you in some reach project and thus, he is able to make comments on your research capability. He is comments on your dedication towards research and the probability of your being successful into the PhD program because when a university accepts you as a grad student it wants you to complete the degree and not drop it in the midway.

Knowing that what is expected from a recommender, now you need to know who can be the best recommender for you. Of course, most of the universities need three recommendations out of which two must be from the persons who have taught you. Now, here is the thing, you have got to get recommendation from a Person who holds a PhD degree. Reason: A person who has himself done a PhD is in a better position to comment about the other person’s ability and dedication for the same. Second, the person who is going to recommend you must know you very well. You can’t take recommendation from a person who hardly knows you. This essentially means that you should not get recommendation from your relative or your acquaintances who have not taught you no matter how renowned he is in research and academia and how important his recommendation can be. 

Try to get at least one recommendation from a person who is familiar to US education system in any capability. He might have been associated with any US university as a grad student, or he can be a visiting faculty or something like that. A person familiar with US education will have more weightage in his recommendation than his counterpart who is ignorant about US education system and this is very obvious.
Proceeding further, many students have a question: whom should they take recommendation from? From a person who is well known and who will write moderate recommendation opposes to one who is not well known but is going to write really good recommendation? There is not a clear-cut answer to this question because that may depend upon the circumstances. So in order to minimize the risk, the best idea I guess will be to get mix recommendations. To make it more clear, one shall try to get two recommendations from the persons who are going to write good about you and you can use one which has written moderate about you. However, make sure that none of the recommendations should make negative comment on your abilities because that may jeopardize your dream of making into the program. Wherever possible, you can ask the faculty if he can write good things about you. Those are in general, going to write positive about you in whose courses you have done well. You shall ask them to write recommendation letter for you well in advance and also ask them if they need your help in writing one. Sometimes they may ask you to come up with a draft. Search on google and you will find many drafts for recommendation letter. If needed, I can also provide some link on it.

Hope this helps, please leave your comments such that I know there are people who are interested otherwise I feel I am wasting my time.


  1. Very helpful post! Thank you!

  2. All your posts are extremely helpful and I am glad that you've written them so please do continue sharing your experiences. Reading your blog helps in getting a clearer picture !

    Thanks a lot.

  3. hi, thanks a lot for your blog. Can you please help me with some sample recommendation letters for PHD in economics and finance

  4. Your blogs are very informative and very much right to the point. Wish had came across earlier then wouldn't have to do all the research regarding admission procedure........

  5. hi,
    Your post was really helpful. Although my field is quite different I am from India.the people i know hold MDs in my field with no Phd , I have finished My Md and plan to do my Phd . so the only people i could think of recommending me are MY Post grad Guide , My undergrad professor and the person who helped do my thesis..(he was PHd student himself who is now on the verge finishing his Phd )