The Letters of Reference (LoR) are the third-party validation of your self-declaration in the application to any university. These letters help the evaluator look at your application from a different perspective. Therefore, it makes sense to get your LoRs written from people who have known you closely, be it a supervisor, a peer or professor or project guide.
Who should be my Referee (for my LoR)?
Some universities clearly mention who your references should be and you have little choice there. But in case it is not mentioned, it is generally a good idea to get a LoR from a senior person who knows you well, understands your aspirations and can candidly highlight your strengths and weaknesses. Also, people who have played critical roles (like your supervisor/boss/colleague/guide) in events/instances you are highlighting in the application essays are good choices for LoRs. If you find an alumnus from the university/college/program, it is even better as the evaluator will give it greater credit, in the knowledge that the alumnus knows and understands the program and university objectives well. While usually the more senior a referee the better, prefer a referee from your direct reporting relationships to a dotted line one. Your project guide is better than the most famous Professor in your college, who took one course in the first year.
The process of getting the LOR from your Referee
So how do you prepare the person you are approaching for this? It is usually a good idea to meet them before your application to explain your intentions, check their availability around the tentative times you are likely to apply, and take their permission to put them down as references in your applications. It will also help to get their perspective as an input to your Statement of Purpose (SoP) and other essays. Subsequently, having a conversation around the program you are applying for, your goals from the degree and expectations around post-degree options and giving them a sense of the application deadline, will help the referee highlight the relevant traits in the LoR.
A positive and honest LoR goes a long way in establishing the credentials of the applicant, and therefore, proper attention needs to be paid in selecting your referees, engaging with them and ensuring that they adhere to the timelines of the process.
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