A Professor Writes About Letters of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation, or LOR, is an important component in the application process for studies abroad.
First, it will be one of the last documents an admission committee will screen. If the committee is happy, you may get admission and then qualify for financial aid. Second, the LOR is probably the only component in the application process over which you do not have much control.
Let us play a strategic game. The main protagonist is your professor. Since what your professor writes is what the committee will see, it is important to know what to keep in mind.
Your professor will be a person under whose tutelage you have done at least one course. (S)he can also be a guide under whom you have done guided research. The professor should be able to reflect on your academic credentials, and go a step forward by writing how well they have observed you — academically, personally and emotionally. Academic grades alone do not reflect the potential of a candidate. This is why a good LOR is important.
Therefore, find a professor with whom you have been close, and who would be willing to "invest" time in writing an LOR for you.
Your professor will send the LOR directly to the university, from their official email. You are not supposed to see it. It is ethically advisable to avoid a professor who asks you to send them a draft. If a committee can spot this, it might affect your admission.
Finally, you want your professor to write a "favourable" LOR, one that's consistent with your academic results. You do not want a generic letter. Committees usually tend to be good at spotting these two types of LORs.
If you are working somewhere, and your professor connects your experience at university with your development in life, that would be a brownie. That will give the LOR a personal touch.
Outside academic credentials, a good LOR includes two components. First: extra-curricular and co-curricular activities that determine your ability to work in groups and your leadership quality. Second: if you have the emotional strength to handle pressures of studies abroad, especially in the absence of your family.
When one of your professors agrees to write an LOR, give them time. Also give them enough relevant information. It helps if you do not ask one professor to write LORs to many universities. Remember, they are human.
If your chosen professor has written many LORs, see how many of the candidates got enrolled into a program, and where. Universities sometimes have pools where the emails of the professor are stored. Committees can access this information if the competition becomes too high.
If all goes well with your strategic planning and luck, then do thank your professor for two reasons if you get admitted into your desired program. First: you may need another LOR later. Second: the professor could find out from social media you are celebrating your achievement, but forgot in your excitement to thank.