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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for
Educational Purposes

Information & samples of college letters of recommendation - writing letters, asking for letters, special tips, and persuasive writing techniques.

When students apply to undergraduate programs, the application process usually includes at least two college letters of recommendation from teachers or others who can honestly evaluate the student's academic ability and potential as a scholar.  These letters count a lot in making the decision on whether or not to accept the student so it is important that you provide the admissions committee with the kind of information that is most helpful.

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Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing a Powerful Letter of Recommendation

Only agree to write college letters of recommendation if you can write positive things about the candidate. It is best to be honest with the student and tell them to asksomeone else if what you have to say is going to hurt their chances of acceptance.

Find out what the student's specific goals are before you begin writing the recommendation. You want to emphasize the aspects of their personality and academic performance that relate to that goal.


The letter should include:

  • Your status -- your position at the school or job title. How long have you known the student and in what capacity (as a teacher, an adviser, a research supervisor, etc.) The better you know the student, the more effective your recommendation will be.
  • Examples -- Admission committees want specifics, NOT generalizations. It is good to say that someone is hardworking and organized, but you need to back up these statements with concrete examples.
  • Expected Results -- Talk about what the student has done and is capable of doing. What is it exactly about the student that makes her or him special? Why do you think this student would benefit from studying at the school in question?
  • Comparisons -- Evaluate the student by comparing him or her with other students you have observed in your work. Quantify your impressions. Is the student in the top 5% of his or her classmates, top 10%, 25%, 50%? You can use phrases such as excellent, very good, average, or below average.

The following is a suggestion of categories you may wish to use for comparison:

  • Intellectual Ability
  • Work Habits
  • Teaching Potential
  • Seriousness of Purpose
  • Knowledge of Field
  • Emotional Maturity
  • Resourcefulness and Initiative
  • Adaptability to New Situations
  • Motivation to Pursue Graduate Study
  • Potential for Contribution in Field

One page is sufficient for most college letters of recommendation. Quality, not quantity, is what is important. Make every sentence count. Do not put something in if an immediate connection cannot be made between that information and the student's ability to participate in the program.

Technically, students are not supposed to see college letters of recommendation. Most schools ask that the recommender put the letter in an envelope, seal it shut, and sign over the seal. Nevertheless, it is generally a good idea to go over at least an initial draft in person with the student. If the student is not happy with your letter, then she should have the option of looking elsewhere.

Free Letter-Writing Template

Get Instant Access to Our Free Template:
Step-by-Step Instructions for Writing a Powerful Letter of Recommendation

Automated Recommendation Letters