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January 23, 2023 7:54 pm

Navigating the Path to Studying Abroad – Part III

IN the last two articles (30 Dec and 13 Jan), we’ve explored the importance of the research proposal and statement of purpose in a college and university application package abroad. This week, we’re delving into the topic of recommendation letters, and how to properly write an email and correspond with a prospective supervisor.

Letter of Recommendation 

When applying to colleges and universities abroad, in addition to the aforementioned documents, academic references are also required. During the online application process, applicants are asked to provide the names, addresses, and emails of their academic referees, also known as recommenders. Some universities require two references, while others ask for three. Regardless of the specific requirements, it’s best to have at least three potential recommenders on hand, as you’ll likely be applying to multiple graduate schools.

When choosing recommenders, it’s best to select professors who have taught you in the last three years and who you have a positive relationship with. Additionally, if you’ve held a job or internship, a superior from that organization can also serve as a reference. It’s important to note that some universities will only accept institutional email addresses, and not personal ones such as Gmail or Yahoo. If any of your chosen recommenders do not have an institutional email address, reach out to the university you’re applying to and explain the situation. In most cases, they will make an exception if they find merit in the case.

When requesting a letter of recommendation (LoR) from your referees, it’s important to provide them with your updated curriculum vitae (CV) and research proposal (RP). These documents will assist them in writing a tailored reference letter that aligns with the specific degree program you’re applying to.

Also Read: Navigating the Path to Studying Abroad – Part I

It’s common for universities to contact your referees directly, rather than requiring you to upload the LoR. This is due to confidentiality concerns, as well as the need for additional information. Some universities may ask your referees to respond to specific evaluation questions in addition to uploading a letter, as is the case with Stanford University.

It’s crucial to remind your referees or recommenders a couple of weeks before the submission deadline for your application. Without a letter of recommendation (LoR), your application may be considered incomplete and may not be reviewed.

If you feel that your chosen referees may not have much experience writing LoRs, you can provide them with sample recommendation letters to imitate. Keep in mind that not all professors may be familiar with the format or style of a LoR, as it is not a common practice in Indian or Kashmiri academia. Here is a sample reference letter:

Stanford University provides guidelines for writing effective letters of recommendation on their website, which recommenders should follow to provide a comprehensive and informative letter of recommendation.

According to the guidelines, recommenders should:

  • Write candidly about the applicant’s qualifications

  • Assess the applicant’s potential to succeed in advanced study in the specified field

  • Evaluate the applicant’s intellectual independence and capability for analytical thinking

  • Assess the applicant’s ability to organize and express ideas clearly

  • Assess the applicant’s potential for teaching

Additionally, the guidelines suggest that descriptions of significant actions, accomplishments, character, and personal qualities related to scholarly achievement are particularly helpful. By following these guidelines, recommenders can provide a comprehensive and informative letter of recommendation that will help the applicant stand out in the admissions process.

How to Write Emails Professionally

Many students in Kashmir traditionally begin their emails with the salutation “Sir.” While this is a common cultural practice in South Asia, it is important to note that when writing to a potential supervisor or professor abroad, it is not appropriate to use this honorific. Instead, simply use the person’s last name preceded by their official title, such as Dr or Professor. For example, if you are writing to Dr. John Nash, your salutation should be “Dear Dr. Nash” or “Dear Professor John Nash.” There is no need to use “Dear John Sir” or “Respected Sir.”

Also Read: Navigating the Path to Studying Abroad – Part II

When drafting an email, it’s important to take care and revise your draft to not only communicate effectively, but also to leave a positive impression of your communication skills. Below is an example of a letter of inquiry addressed to a professor by a prospective PhD candidate:

Dear Professor John Nash,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Adnan Ali and I recently completed my MA in Sociology from the University of Kashmir. I am writing to inquire about the possibility of your supervision for my PhD research, which will focus on understanding gentrification in Kashmir, an understudied subject in the context of the restive region.

I am particularly interested in studying the impact of gentrification on the displacement of local communities and the cultural and social changes that occur as a result. I believe that your expertise in urban sociology and gentrification would be invaluable to my research and I would be honoured to have the opportunity to work under your supervision.

I would greatly appreciate if you could let me know if you are currently accepting PhD students and if there is any further information or materials that I should provide in order to be considered for supervision.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adnan Ali

It’s important to take care when crafting the subject line of an email, as it can greatly impact your chances of getting a response. Some students make the mistake of leaving the subject line blank or writing long sentences, which can be detrimental to their chances of getting a response.

Professors are busy individuals who receive numerous emails on a daily basis, and an ill-thought or carelessly written subject line can easily cause your email to be overlooked. When writing the subject line, it’s important to think professionally and express the purpose of your email in a clear and concise manner. For the above email a suitable brief subject line would be like this:

‘Subject: Inquiry for PhD supervision: Understanding Gentrification in Kashmir.’

Now let’s imagine that the professor responded to Adnan’s email. He asks for his updated CV. How will Adnan reply? Here is a way to write back:

Subject: Follow-up for PhD supervision: Understanding Gentrification in Kashmir (CV attached)

Dear Professor John Nash,

Thank you for getting back to me regarding my inquiry for PhD supervision. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. As per your request, I am attaching my CV for your review.

Please let me know if there is any additional information or materials that you need from me. I would be more than happy to provide them.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adnan Ali

Adnan was lucky and the professor agreed to supervise him. Here is how he can respond to the supervisor:

Subject: Acceptance of PhD supervision offer: Understanding Gentrification in Kashmir

Dear Professor John Nash,

Thank you so much for considering my request for PhD supervision and for agreeing to be my supervisor. I am thrilled at the opportunity to work under your guidance and expertise. I am confident that your guidance and support will greatly benefit my research on understanding gentrification in Kashmir. 

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you and discuss my research proposal in more detail. Please let me know a convenient time and date for us to schedule a meeting.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.


Adnan Ali

But Adnan will need scholarship to fund his PhD, what should he do now? He can ask the professor in this way:

Subject: Request for guidance on scholarship opportunities for PhD funding.

Dear Professor John Nash,

I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to follow up with you regarding the funding for my PhD research on understanding gentrification in Kashmir. As we discussed, I am in need of a scholarship to support my studies and I was wondering if you could advise me on any available options at the university or any other sources that I could consider.

I would greatly appreciate any information or guidance you can provide on potential scholarships or funding opportunities, including application process, deadlines, and required materials.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Adnan Ali

In conclusion, the process of applying to colleges and universities abroad can be a daunting task for students, particularly for those in Kashmir. However, by paying attention to the important details such as research proposal, statement of purpose, recommendation letters, and email communication, students can increase their chances of success. I hope that the suggestions and tips provided in this and previous articles have been helpful and will give confidence and skills to Kashmiri students who wish to embark on the journey of applying abroad. In the next article, I will delve into the topic of scholarships and how to prepare for them. We will explore the different types of scholarships available, the application process and tips on how to increase the chances of being awarded a scholarship.

to be concluded….

  • Muhammad Tahir is Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at Dublin City University, Ireland 

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Muhammad Tahir

The author is an independent researcher