Online Admissions: How to write a letter of recommendation

letter of recommendationSome, but not all, of our programs require letters of recommendation.

What makes a great letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a formal document that schools use to help judge whether or not you as a student will be a good fit at that university.

There are several key elements of a good letter of recommendation.  First impressions, style, format, referring person, relevant content and of course – spelling – are all carefully considered elements.

First impressions are important

As a formal letter, the format is important. The format of your letter is like a first impression. Purdue has a great resource that you can use as a guide to brush up on the basics of a good business letter.  Appearances do count, even if just a bit. But as they say, every bit helps.


Who should you ask to write your letter of recommendation?

We’re looking to get a picture of you as a person but through an academic lens. A good reference will be able to speak not just to your sparkling personality, but will also know you in an academic sense. So with this in mind,

  • Best References: previous advisors, professors.
  • If you have been out of school five years: a workplace supervisor or a leader in your community who will be able to speak to your motivation, drive, and professionalism.
  • Find someone who is at a higher “level” than yourself, such as a manager or someone with a higher education level than you have. Your reference should know and be able to speak to your academic strengths and passions. This person should also be easily accessible, in case the UNE admissions committee has any questions or needs to get in touch for any reason.

Who should NOT write your letter of recommendation?

Avoid coworkers with positions at your same “level” and avoid getting references from friends. We know your friends love you, but a reference from someone who knows you neither academically nor in a business capacity carries no weight. These people are actually a negative reflection on your application. When you ask a friend for a letter of recommendation, they’re not able to speak to your academic side in any type of truly informed way. In the same vein, a coworker at your same level cannot objectively speak to the capacity at which you’re able to function in your work role.

Why do schools require a letter of recommendation?

Many universities have found that a letter of recommendation is one way to get the measure of a potential new student and whether you will be a good fit for the program you’re applying for. That said, the letters of recommendation are not necessarily a make-or-break part of the application process. While a good letter of recommendation will certainly help your application, a poorly written, off topic, or scattered letter of recommendation will not hurt your chances of acceptance.

Elements of an excellent recommendation letter

  • One page.
  • Speaks to the applicant’s education.
  • Mentions how long the letter writer has known the applicant, and in what context.
  • Comments on the communication style of the applicant.
  • Mentions work ethic.
  • Refers to what the applicant studied (if an instructor or professor).
  • Touches on which skills the applicant demonstrates strength.
  • Highlights relevant and unique characteristics of applicant, or examples of applicant’s leadership.
  • Makes reference to projects initiated by the applicant.

This is not an exhaustive list, and your recommendation letter does not have to touch on each element in this list. These are just some of the components that we have found that make up an effective letter of recommendation.

Three rules for your references:

  1. If a letter of recommendation is required as part of your admissions process, the letter must be sent to UNE directly from the letter writer.
  2. Letter writer must sign a waiver form. More about waiver forms below.
  3. Your reference must be easily accessible if we need to be in touch.

What is a waiver form?

The waiver form effectively waives the right of the applicant to review their letter of reference. The applicant has to decide if he or she would like the opportunity to view the letter after it has been submitted to UNE. The waiver form is one of the most common reasons we need to get directly in touch with an applicant’s referral. It frequently happens that the letter writer forgets to include the waiver form with their letter of recommendation. So we ask that references be easily accessible, just in case we need to be in touch with them.

A note about references on your resume

References should be integrated into your resume in some fashion. If your reference is important enough to be writing you a letter of recommendation, they – or at the very least their place of business – should be important enough to appear on your resume in some form.

How we know if you’re a good fit for UNE

The UNE Online admissions team is looking for students will be a good match for the UNE Online programs, both in terms of our school’s culture and the academic atmosphere. Online graduate school is very different from in-person schooling – and we want to make sure that you are in the best possible position to succeed. Evidence of past success is an indicator of future success. Certain strengths such as initiative and drive are a good indicator to us that you will succeed in an online format.

Questions about writing a great reference letter?

If you were to have questions on any of the elements listed above, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor via chat, email, or phone at 1(855)325-0896. They will be happy to talk to you in detail about the referral process.

Learn more about our online graduate programs

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