Letters of Recommendation
What they are and how they will help you get into graduate school.
what is a letter of recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is a document that provides extra context and merit to the applicant's portfolio. Someone who can vouch for the applicant's qualifications and experience writes these letters; the applicants themselves do not write them.
letters of recommendation
for university students
The admissions committee uses recommendation letters to see the applicant from a different point of view. Its purpose is to show proof of the trustworthiness, academic excellence, and potential of the future student. The recommender is a trusted source of that information.
Recommendation letters should describe both the relationship between the author and the applicant (joint research, supervision, teaching, etc.) and provide the personal opinion of the author about the applicant. Very formal letters, or a translation of standard characteristics usually do not produce a good impression. Please note that each letter should be written by their signing authors; the use of drafts prepared by applicants themselves is strongly discouraged.
Dr. Mikhail Gelfand
World-renowned scientist, professor and Program Director of Skoltech's Life Sciences MSc program
Universities require at least two letters of recommendation from two different people who know you best. For instance, you may ask a professor from that course you aced a few months ago, or your academic advisor who guided you through writing your thesis, or even a colleague at the company you interned at last summer — yes, that counts, too!

An ideal recommender is a person who has mentored you personally and knows you best. He or she can talk about you in a positive light, drawing on experiences when you overcame challenges and achieved success.
how to ask for a letter of recommendation
The hardest part of getting letters of recommendation is actually asking someone to write them. Even if your professors offer to do it first, it is crucial to follow proper etiquette. Here are a few key tips for requesting letters of recommendation:
1
ask in-person and use good manners
Take the time to visit your potential recommender and talk to them in a polite, respectful manner. They will appreciate it and will be more likely to say "yes".
2
provide context
What are you currently doing and what you are trying to achieve? Why do you need a letter of recommendation? Tell them about it.
3
give a chance to say 'no'
It is possible that the person you ask for a letter of recommendation will be busy or won't feel like he/she knows you well enough. That's okay, it happens. Since you can't know this for sure beforehand, respectfully tell them that you understand if they don't have a chance to write the letter. Then, move on.
4
offer to help
Provide your recommenders with any helpful information. For instance, share your resume, motivation letter, any relevant links and projects you've worked on. If you have an application deadline, this is the place to mention it.
5
express your gratitude
Tell your recommenders how much you would appreciate their help. If they help, don't forget to say "thank you." It's that simple.
Requesting via email
If the circumstances require you to ask for a letter of recommendation via email, follow the tips above. However, don't forget about email etiquette:

  • Indicate that you are asking for a letter of recommendation in the subject line.
  • Pay special attention to explaining why you are asking this person in particular.
  • Always use proper grammar and spelling.

If you are having trouble with designing the email, feel free to use this as a template:
Subject Line: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Dear [Title + Name of Person You are Asking]

I hope this email finds you well! I am applying for [university program] at [university and was wondering whether you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me.

I sincerely feel that no one else is more suited to writing me a recommendation and I would truly appreciate any words of support you might be willing to say on my behalf. I would be happy to share with you any relevant information, such as my resume, cover letter, and portfolio of past projects from your course.

However, I know that you are extremely busy and if you are unable to find the time to write a letter, I completely understand.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]
A good recommendation letter serves many functions, including:

  • Confirming the applicant's achievements.
  • Confirming the applicant's reputation with faculty.
  • Highlighting the applicant's connections in the scientific community.
  • Showing the applicant's interests.
  • Widening the range of opinions about the applicant's potential.
Evgeny Burnaev
Associate Professor at the Center for Computational and Data-Intensive Science and Engineering at Skoltech, founder of ADASE research group
done. what's next?
After you've requested your letters of recommendation from two people, give them a couple of weeks to write them. The next steps will depend on the university you are applying to and the technical framework of the application system.

At Skoltech, you have two options. The first option is to send an automatic email to your recommenders and allow them to upload their letters themselves. The second way is to upload a PDF copy of their letter yourself, however, it must be written and signed by the original author. The application system gives you step-by-step instructions on how to go about submitting this section. So, are you ready?
Now you know how to request letters of recommendation.
Time to check your application!
Application period for 2020 start is open.
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