How to get a strong recommendation letter when applying for a Master’s degree

SOURCE: William West/AFP
Applying for a Master's degree soon? Make sure you know how to get a strong recommendation letter.

By Aisyah Liliana 

Read all stories

If you’ll be applying for a Master’s degree programme soon, don’t underestimate recommendation letters and the power they have over making or breaking your application.

The recommendation letter is the only element of the Master’s degree application that isn’t written by yourself, so you’ll need to be sure you’re sending in a strong one that paints you in the best light professionally.

Not sure who you should ask to write you a letter of recommendation for your Master’s degree application? It is advised that you choose someone who knows you well professionally or academically, like a professor from your undergraduate programme.

It can also be someone with an advanced degree who has supervised you in a job or internship connected with the Master’s degree programme you’re pursuing.

Once you’ve identified who you should ask, the way you approach them should also be considered. Don’t just shoot them a DM or e-mail them, but call them personally to set up either a Zoom call or face-to-face, if possible.

According to Caroline Diarte Edwards from Fortuna Admissions, “As former Director of Admissions at INSEAD, I can affirm that a powerful letter of recommendation can tip the balance in your favour at decision time.

“Alas, the reverse is also true – I’ve also witnessed applications that were completely undermined because a candidate has obviously misunderstood their relationship with their recommender – whether the letter lacked detail or actually veered into negative commentary.

“You need to be both planful and strategic to make sure your letter of recommendation is memorable for all the right reasons.”


The first step is to think carefully about who you’re asking to vouch for you through a recommendation letter, and if they’re the right person to be asking.

You must be sure that you have a relationship with them where they are able to not only write about your best qualities but also include examples. This gives you more credibility as an applicant rather than a generic letter filled with adjectives such as “smart” and “ambitious” without concrete examples of your character.

That being said, once you’ve asked a recommender to write you a letter, make sure to sit down with them and go over your accomplishments instead of leaving it up to them to craft the recommendation letter for your Master’s degree application.

Edwards advises prospective applicants to schedule a conversation with the person you’ve asked to write you a recommendation letter and walk them through your resume.

“Brainstorm your strengths and weaknesses with them, as they may have a different perspective than you. Make sure they’re prepared to speak to ways you can further develop – the MBA admissions committee wants to know how you’ve grown and how you’ve managed whatever issue has come your way.

“Follow up your discussion by sharing some bullet points about what you discussed. It’s not about being prescriptive but facilitating an effective process – don’t assume they know what they need to do just because your recommenders are accomplished professionals.”

Of course, don’t go so far as to write the letter for them or tell them what to write as the whole point of a recommendation letter for a Master’s degree application is to offer an authentic and credible voice.

Receiving a strong recommendation letter can take some time AS people can be busy and it’s done on a voluntary basis. Do respect your recommender’s time and don’t delay this step so you can be sure to get it done way ahead of time.