A recommendation letter is one of the mandatory requirements when applying for graduate schools in the U.S.
Majority of U.S. universities require 3 recommendation letters and some schools require 2+.
Some schools consider letters of recommendation as reference letters. I have seen schools that require students to submit the references through an online form.
It really depends on the college you are applying for admission.
Why Recommendation Letters?
Universities use reference letters to determine their professional characters, behavior, and other skills, which will be expressed by the student in the letter by their managers or professors.
Some schools will provide a reference letter template and will ask the students to get it filled. But most schools accept recommendation letters signed in sealed envelop.
A graduate school or department admission committee will look for specific skills and traits that can convince them to give admission to candidates. It’s not a bad idea to give them an outline of skills to be included.
I have written about dos and don’ts when writing recommendation letters.
What Skills to Highlight
There are so many skills that a person can highlight in the recommendation letter while providing reference. But, it’s difficult to include many traits in a 1 to 2 page document.
Much care has to be put in to select the skills that have to be included in the LOR. You can refer to sample recommendation letters, but all those skills will not apply exactly to your particular case.
- Social Skills
- Motivational Skills
- Communication Skills (Reading, Writing and Listening)
- Analytical Research and Quantitative Skill
- Leadership Skills
- Ability to overcome tough situations
- Willingness to go extra mile
- Volunteer Activities
A recommendation letter alone will not get you admission. GRE scores, statement of purpose (sample SOPs), resumé and other skills all play equal roles in getting admission.