Reference letter for university admission- how to get them? bic_2021_admn 2023.04.25.

Reference letter for university admission- how to get them?

Getting a reference letter for university admission is a normal part of any higher education selection process, especially on the Master’s level or higher. Admission teams will want to see what your previous professors or colleagues though of you as a professional- this what the reference letters are for.

Who can write a reference letter for university admission?

The best is to get reference letter from high-ranking professors or colleagues. It can be a Head of Department, Head of Program, maybe the professor of your favorite subject or your thesis supervisor. Make sure that they know your skills and professional merits so they can really write complimentary (and true) things about you. If you are asking for a reference letter from a colleague, make sure that they are high-ranking leaders and not necessarily your desk mate who is on the same level as you. This can be your boss, your boss’ boss etc.

How do I approach someone for a reference letter?

Asking for a favor is difficult sometimes, but don’t worry- giving and receiving reference letters is a normal part of academic and professional life. The best thing is to write and email or ask for it in person. You should explain what it is for, and what should be mentioned in it.
Also, please note that some busy managers or professors might ask you to write the reference letter for yourself and they will just sign at the end. Is this an acceptable practice? – of course, this practice is not very fortunate, but we know it happens. If this is your only option, then surely go with it, just make sure that your referee actually reads the letter, agrees with it and signs it personally. 

What should a reference letter contain?

It should mention your referee’s credentials, what your relations were (were they your boss, your professors, project supervisor etc.) and what was your work together like. They should mention what your main tasks, responsibilities and skills were/are. They should mention why you are a good candidate for admission and why should you be accepted. Of course it should be as personal and truthful as possible.

How should a reference letter for university admission look like?

It should look like any formal letter. It’s best to have a hardcopy of it, but of course you can upload/send it in a PDF or JPG format during your admission process. (Make sure to check if your university has specific formatting requirements.)

I already have an older reference letter that I used previously, is it acceptable?

It’s best to have a fresh reference letter written directly to the specific purpose you want to use it for. However, if you have a valuable, well-written reference letter from a previous professor or employer, you can use that of course, no problem. Just make sure that the letter doesn’t contain irrelevant sentences or it was not specifically written to another university or company, because it is awkward.
In this case it’s best if the letter is generic, starts with a “To whom it may concern” and does not mention any institutions by name- it just simply describes your work and merits.

Ready-to-use sentences

  • “To whom it may concern,” (instead of Dear XY,)
  • “I’m happy/ thrilled to recommend John Small…”
  • “I’m writing to recommend John Small for…”
  • “I know him from working together on XY project for several years”
  • “He was my student for 3 years and he always he kept imressing me with his diligence and skills…”
  • “During our time together, he always…”
  • “It was a wonderful experience to work with him on…”
  • “He continued to impress me with his … skills”
  • “He will surely not disappoint…”
  • “If you have any further questions and would like a verbal recommendation, please do not hesitate to contact me”

Now let’s see a good example!


Reference letter example for university admission