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How to get a great MS Engineering reference letter

Katie Schenk - October 23, 2019

MS Engineering reference letter tips

For entrance into any level of higher education, you’ll need at least 1 reference letter. If you’re considering an MS Engineering degree, you're probably looking at 2 or 3 reference letters. And that's per programme. If you apply to a few different schools, you’ll need to start multiplying the number of letters you need.

And you can’t write a single reference letter yourself.

Still, you have more control than you think.

What's the point of reference letters?

Some applicants don’t spend more than a minute wondering why colleges require reference letters. They’re needed and that’s all that counts.

But, a few moments reflecting on the purpose of these recommendations might make all the difference between a decent letter and shot at a seat or a stellar letter and early acceptance.

MS Engineering programmes request references because they want a glimpse into the person you are beyond grades, test scores and work history. They want to know what other people think are your strongest traits and competence levels. (Your perception of yourself goes into your Statement of Purpose essay.) 

Your ability to work with others, collaborate on projects, put in the extra effort to get the job done or even just the way your brain tackles an assignment aren't things the admissions offices will see from your test scores.

Remember that everyone else applying to your MS Engineering programme will have similarly impeccable test scores and awesome undergrad results. What they won’t have is the glowing reference letter you have. 

Who should write your reference letters?

The biggest mistake applicants make when selecting their recommenders is to ask the president of their company or the dean of their alma mater to write a reference letter.

If you’re close with those people and have spent time together on projects, by all means, ask them. But there's no point in asking someone who wouldn’t be able to pick you out of a lineup. They can't possibly add an anecdote about your time together or provide admissions teams what they’re looking for.

The title, level, and perceived importance of a person is unimportant to admissions teams; how well a person knows you is what truly counts – even if their title is barely a notch above yours.

If you’ve recently completed your undergrad, a professor or advisor is a strong choice. But you should also consider direct supervisors at your current or previous jobs. Don't stress if your work experience isn’t exactly in your field of study. It’s something can explain in your Statement of Purpose.

Never ask a family member or close friend to write you a reference letter for admission to a university; you need a recommendation from someone in your professional or academic life.

Guiding the MS Engineering reference letter

You really shouldn’t ask someone to write a reference letter for you, hand them the name of the school and whatever forms they need and walk away. You want to give them more information so their letter supplements your entire application.

Generally speaking, you should let your recommenders know why you’ve asked them to speak on your behalf. They’ll want to know which aspects of your time together you want to highlight.

That’s just the beginning. You should also let your reference letter writers know why you want to go back to school, which courses interest you most, why you’re applying to a certain programme and what you hope to do with your degree.

Every bit of information you can provide your recommenders will assist them to write the letter you truly want – without you writing it yourself.

Don't forget to follow up

No matter how much a person likes you or respects your work, a reference letter is a favour. It’s extra time away from their work and their lives to support your pursuit of an MS Engineering degree. Make sure you take time to say thank you. A token of appreciation won’t go unnoticed (though it should only arrive after the letter has been sent), and it can be as simple as a hand-written thank you card.

But, that’s not the last time you should make contact with your recommenders. Take the time to let them know if you did (or didn’t) receive an acceptance letter. Even if you choose a different school, anyone who is willing to write a reference letter for you will be interested in your successes.

You don’t want to wait too long to get the ball rolling on your reference letters either. Keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable with formal writing and will want to take their time to do you justice. 

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Prodigy Finance Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Post updated for accuracy and freshness on October 22, 2019. Originally published on September 23, 2016.

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