All about letters of recommendation for US varsities

letters of recommendation

In our discussion about EducationUSA’s Five Steps to master’s programmes in the United States, we started talking about Step 3: Complete your Application. We learned about online applications, transcripts, and the personal statement in recent columns. This week, we learn about another component of applications: letters of recommendation, also referred to as reference letters or LORs.

Letters of recommendation are an important part of the master’s degree application to U.S. universities. Through the LOR, the admissions committee tries to understand the applicant’s potential from the point of view of the referee. It is important for applicants to request the LOR from someone who knows them well and is able to clearly describe the academic and scholarly aptitude of the student along with his/her personal characteristics. While the requirements for reference letters vary by department and/or university, generally two to three letters of reference are required by U.S. higher education institutions as part of the master’s degree application.

Students may request the letter either from an academic contact (such as their college teacher/professor) or a professional contact (such as their supervisor/project leader/client) if they have some work experience. Some institutions may require one or two out of the three letters to be from academic contacts.

If applying to the master’s programme right after their bachelor’s studies, students may choose one or two lecturers/professors of relevant courses along with the adviser of their project/internship as their referees. However, if the applicant is working or has worked in the past, depending on the requirements of the university, they may take one professional and two academic recommendations from lecturers/professors from the bachelor’s programme who have taught them relevant courses. It is important that students carefully read the instructions related to reference letters provided on the website of the shortlisted universities before they request their letters from referees.

In the next column, we will talk further about LORs and understand the process students should follow to request letters of recommendation.

Q. We are planning to send our children to the U.S. for their higher education after 12th standard. Where should we look for funding options at bachelor’s level in the United States?
– Radhakrishna

Ans: Scholarship and financial aid, terms often used interchangeably, are possible ways to support undergraduate (bachelor’s programmes) studies in the United States. Technically speaking, a scholarship is a financial award based on merit – excellent academic performance, or perhaps community service or leadership or special talent such as sports. Financial aid is a grant based on the student’s financial need, as documented by family income, assets, and other factors. All types of scholarships and financial aid in the United States are extremely competitive and require outstanding academic records.

Unfortunately, not all universities/colleges in the U.S. offer scholarship and financial aid to international students. Few institutions offering bachelor’s degrees can provide financial assistance to students who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Bear in mind that financial aid for U.S. students is separate from financial aid for international students. Refer to the university/college website to understand if it offers scholarship and/or financial aid to international students. You can also visit the ‘special opportunities and financial aid’ section of the EducationUSA website accessible through this link to search for various scholarships available at U.S. universities for international students.

Q. When I went to register for IELTS exam- I found two types of exams (academic and general). Can you please clarify what type of IELTS should I take? I want to apply for master’s programmes in the United States. – Afzal Pasha

Ans: The International English Language Testing System or IELTS is available in two types: Academic or General Training. The Academic format of IELTS is for individuals who want to study or train in an English-speaking university or institutions of higher education. The General Training format focuses on basic survival skills in a broad social and educational context and is for those who are going to English-speaking countries to do secondary education, work experience, migration, or training programmes. If you are applying to U.S. universities, you should select the IELTS Academic test.

(The author is the Regional Officer and EducationUSA Adviser at the United States-India Educational Foundation based at the U.S. Consulate General Hyderabad)

Also read:

Destination US: English proficiency tests play crucial role

Things to know before completing your application for US varsities

Application timelines and how to go about it

Cost and potential sources of funding

Key criteria to check before applying for Master’s programme in US

Here is how you can submit transcripts to US varsities

Destination US: Personal statement of student plays vital role

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