Most of the foreign Universities consider “Recommendations” as a big plus against the candidature during the admission process. It is also mandatory almost universally for applying into Bachelor’s Master’s or a Doctorate degree. It plays a vital role in the decision-making process.

If the letters are not in the favorable tone for the candidate, all the hard work put into one’s Statement of Purpose/Essays during the process shall go to vain, so it is very crucial to realize its importance. A strong and appropriate recommendation by the right people makes or breaks an applicant!

Whom to get recommendations from?

Bachelor’s level – Lecturers are always a good first choice, who have taught the student in key subjects or specializations and have a good insight on the strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.

Principal or head of the Institution – It is not necessary that they have taught the student directly. Although some institution heads do teach the wards and/or knows the student (the applicant) well. Their recommendation will be useful.

Master’s level – Professors/Teachers are vital here as they could provide their insights into the academic performance and extra-curricular activities of the applicant

Guides/Mentors, if they have supervised the student in their project work, within the college or an institution. Their recommendation is deemed effective since they reflect on the practical skills of the applicant in a perceived work-place.

It is important to not consider to seek a recommendation from the head of institution in such cases since the head may not be aware of applicant who is one among several hundred/thousand students of his college/university.

For candidates who have work experience, it is advised to seek at least one or two academic recommendations from the college/university and at least one from either the manager or the overall ‘head’ in the work place. However, a huge gap between college and the recommender is not advised for the application, most appropriate recommenders could be the supervisors and the applicants peer as they will have the opportunity of observing the applicant as a team member within the organization.

Doctoral level and beyond – Strong academic recommendations coupled with work-place supervisors form the key recommenders. More than for any level, doctoral applicants are heavily dependent on recommendations for admission.

What constitutes a 'good' recommendation?

Make sure all recommendations must logically constitute the following five points to make them effective and ‘good’.

How the applicant is known to the recommender and in what capacity. For example, 'as a student of his College Economics class' etc.
Observation of academic or non-academic applicants’ skills with a critical acclaim - to show that the recommendation is unbiased.
Ranking the applicant relatively comparing to other peers, within his class or college, amongst his fellow-students.
Pointing out strengths and weaknesses of the applicant- academic or non-academic - and how that could be overcome by the student.
Finally, recommending the applicant for admission into the chosen program, with or without aid. This is crucial, since some universities are known to make decisions on financial aid, based on strong recommendations.

It is advisable to provide the recommendation on the letter-head of the person concerned or at least of the college/organization of the recommender. You may ask your recommender to include his/her contact details (email, phone and mailing address) within the recommendation itself. Some universities might verify if they are not ‘truly made.

Ensure that the recommendations are placed in envelopes, sealed properly and signed by the recommender across the flap. Also, it would be appropriate to indicate the name of the Department and the University for whom the recommendation has been prepared.

Here are a few last questions that interviewers have been known to pose. Consider in advance what answer you will give if asked. Choose a response that is both honest and reflects well on you.

What have you published related to your field?
Where do you see yourself in the next five (or ten) years?
What would you say about your country to a person who has no idea of it?
Can you give examples of past problems in your life and how you have resolved them?
What books have you read (or are you reading currently)?
What do you do with your spare time?