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College Recommendation Letter Template – with Samples
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Updated February 17, 2023
A College Recommendation Letter is an endorsement of a college applicant that is written to bolster chances for admission. Recommendation letters are brief, formal statements that should highlight positive qualities and explain why the candidate will be successful in college studies.
Though friends or family might be able to sing the applicant’s praises, the best letters are usually written by teachers or employers.
What to Include
This letter should provide key details about the relationship between recommender and applicant, and highlight the applicant’s positive attributes. It should include:
- An explanation of how the recommender came to know the applicant
- Salient positive qualities possessed by the applicant relevant to success in college
- Anecdotes illustrating the character and competence of the applicant
Though it is easy to write a laundry-list of positives, it is better to tell a story. Simply put, try to show rather than tell why the applicant will be a success in higher education.
Why Use a College Recommendation Letter?
Many colleges require recommendation letters from applicants. But even if recommendations are not a strict necessity, they can help to build the case for admission.
These letters matter for what they say, but they also add some default value to an application just for being included. Even if the admissions committee does not carefully read recommendation letters, they are likely to note that they were included with the application, and that the applicant in the kind of person who can drum up recommendations – a positive quality all its own.
Who to Select
A teacher, coach, or counselor are ideal choices and should be able to state key facts about the student including being able to describe their personality traits, work habits, and skills. Furthermore, the individual chosen by the student should be someone that they have had a relationship with outside the hours of school such as part of a volunteer program, sports team, or academic club.
An advantage to this is that Colleges and Universities understand that, on top of a full curriculum, having other activities take away from schoolwork. Therefore, if it comes down to an application with a generic reference versus another with an authentic reference, the latter will most likely get the nod.
How to Write (Format)
A recommendation letter should fill an entire page (usually 400 – 500 words) and contain an introduction, two (2) body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The student should be described in a way that highlights both their academic skills and personal qualities. If the letter is written well, it will provide a complete picture of the candidate which goes beyond their grades and personal resume.
The introduction should be anywhere from 2 to 6 sentences that, more or less, describe the relationship with the student.
Depending on the person it can be as short as:
Example #1 Dear Admissions Committee, It is with great satisfaction that I recommend Peter to the University of Oak Lane. I had the joy of teaching and coaching Peter for the last 2 years as part of our school’s math team and I’ve watched him age into an intelligent, mature young man.
In this sample introduction the student is being recommended by the head of a noteworthy club (the “math team”) which is a stand-out recommendation.
Example #2 Dear Admissions Committee, It is my honor to recommend Jake to Faraway College as his high school basketball coach. Over the course of the last 4 years, I have seen him develop into one of our school’s most impressive players and it was his skillset that helped guide our team to a winning season last year . Without his leadership skills and discipline, our team would not have enjoyed its success.
Here we have a coach that is introducing the student immediately as a leader and disciplined player. Two (2) key personality traits that a school looks for in a candidate.
The first body paragraph of the letter should provide a positive description of the student’s character, as well as list any achievements and awards that they may have earned. This paragraph will provide the main body of the letter and should therefore be at least 4-6 sentences in length.
Example #1 Laura has proven herself to be generous, enthusiastic, and helpful both in and out of class. Not only is she one of my top Physics students, but she has also been responsible for organizing student activities, and speaking at assemblies as president of the Student Counci l. In this capacity, Laura has demonstrated that she is a confident, well-organized, diligent, and capable leader. She has participated as a tutor in the peer-tutoring program. I personally oversee this program and can attest not only to Laura’s ability to explain and instruct, but also to her patience and her deep commitment to helping others. I am also pleased to say that I was able to award Laura with the AAPT Outstanding Student Certificate for her exemplary performance during her two years as a student in my Physics classes.
In this example a physics teacher demonstrates the student’s positive character attributes by referencing the student’s personal achievements and commitments.
Example #2 When I was first introduced to Jordan, I was immediately impressed by his maturity and confidence. Little did I know that five years later I would be impressed further still by this young man’s incredible development. Jordan is known throughout the school for his athletic achievements in track and field, as well as for being a standout performer in the theatre program. As Jordan’s counselor I have been able to track his incredible personal and academic progress, and I can attest that with his winning smile and perseverance there is no mountain that he cannot climb. By staying after school for extra help in mathematics and science, Jordan has managed to improve his academic performance to such a degree that he has been included on the school Honor Roll for two years running.
This sample has a school counselor drawing upon their lengthy relationship with the student to describe their personal impression of the student’s character, highlighting the student’s work ethic and exemplary performance in multiple fields.
The second body paragraph is going to expand upon the first one, emphasizing the student’s participation in school and in school groups, citing specific examples of their positive character traits. Try to connect the student’s various interests and aptitudes to paint a coherent and memorable portrait. This paragraph can run from 3-6 sentences, depending on how many examples are given.
Example #1 Cassandra’s personal character is equally as impressive as her academic achievements. As a public speaker she is able to hold the attention of an entire assembly, and when speaking one-on-one she demonstrates empathetic listening skills, as well as a powerful intellect. Cassandra cares about those around her and is always ready to lend a helping hand or word of encouragement. In her third year, she started a sustainability program along with her peers which now performs an annual school waste audit and gives presentations on waste reduction and practices. With her unwavering enthusiasm and sense of humor, having Cassandra in a classroom is a joy for her teachers and fellow students alike.
The above sample uses descriptive language and specific examples to highlight the student’s communication skills, personal interests, and positive personality traits.
Example #2 As captain of the girls basketball team, Melinda has participated in two state-wide championships and led our school to a victory in a district tournament. This year, she has served as the editor of this year’s school yearbook, proving her ability to delegate work to her assistant editors and organize an efficient workflow. Melinda is not only a born leader and a fastidious worker, she is a kind-hearted and sympathetic individual who strives to make a positive impact on the world around her.
This example uses less descriptive language, instead relying more upon examples that pertain to the student’s extracurricular activities, demonstrating their participation, leadership skills, and sense of responsibility.
The conclusion paragraph can be anywhere from 2-4 sentences long and its purpose is twofold: to summarize the author’s personal recommendation, and to provide a contact method for further questions.
Example #1 Peter’s ability to perform competitively under pressure will surely serve him well in a college setting. He is an organized, intelligent, and capable young man who would be an excellent addition to your school. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions at (555) 414-4141 or [email protected] Sincerely, Jan Travis Biology Teacher Far Away High School
The above sample has a brief summary of the student’s of positive attributes, as well as two contact methods contained in the paragraph body.
Example #2 In conclusion, Clayton has my respect and highest recommendation as an exemplary student. He has demonstrated excellence in all that he puts his mind to, whether working on a group project, or designing a technical experiment. Clayton’s keen interest in understanding how things work and natural aptitude for sciences lead me to believe that he will be a valuable addition to your classrooms. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at the email address provided below if you have any questions. Sincerely, Mr. John Lewis Physics Teacher West Island High School
In this concluding paragraph, the summary is geared specifically towards the college program which the student is applying for. By being specific, the author clearly demonstrates why the student is a suitable applicant for a particular college or university.
Dear Admissions Committee, I am pleased to be writing this letter of recommendation on behalf of Karen Leyland, a most promising student and wonderful individual. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Math to Karen during her junior and senior years here at Kirby Prep School. If it were appropriate for teachers to pick favorites, Karen would definitely be one of my top choices. She has a winning attitude full of drive and perseverance that goes unparalleled. She is always attentive in class and has a knack for engaging the whole class in participation, but the attribute that admire the most about Karen is her unwavering kindness. Karen has been at the top of her class in her final year of high school and was always amongst the top 5 in previous years. Her ability to understand complex concepts and solve problems quicker than most people is the main reason why she qualified for the National Merit Scholarship Program . This accomplishment was earned by giving her undivided attention in class and doing extra work outside of the classroom. She’s always able to manage her time superbly and willing to lend a hand to other students struggling with their work. While some are destined to develop leadership skills, Karen seems to possess the intrinsic qualities of a born leader and she’s able to accomplish this without an air of arrogance or superiority towards her peers. Math is Karen’s main academic focus, but she is also thrives in the music department. She plays saxophone in the jazz band and has a deep understanding of the connections between music and mathematics. I have heard her play on multiple occasions and it’s obvious she has an amazing mind for music comprehension and composition. I’m also fortunate enough to play music with Karen when we both can spare the time and my favorite part about it is the change in teacher-student dynamic wherein I get to play the role of the student again. It’s refreshing and confirms my belief that teachers learn just as much from their students as students do from teachers. Any college would be thrilled to accept Karen as she is an outstanding student with so much to offer. Our school was very lucky to have her as a student and I’m sure your faculty will feel the same should she be accepted. Karen embraces constructive criticism and strives to improve in every aspect of her education and beyond. She deserves all the good things that will inevitably come her way in her post-secondary years. I would be glad to answer any further questions you have regarding Karen or Kirby Prep School. Sincerely, Erik Perkins Math Teacher Georgiana Bruce Kirby Prep School
Dear Admissions Committee, It is without hesitation that I write to you in regards to Ted’s acceptance into your prestigious institution. I am a counselor at Crescent Valley High School and have had the pleasure of working with Ted throughout his high school career. I’ve watched him develop into a well-rounded and mature young man, who will accomplish many great things in his lifetime. He is a talented and hard-working individual who finds joy in helping others. Ted has amazing people skills and can make anyone feel comfortable around him. In Ted’s first year of high school, he came to me in need of some guidance. He had gone through some heavy family problems and it was causing his school work to suffer. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to help Ted through these rough times. He is a compassionate, caring, and self-efacing person, with an unshakable positive outlook on life. Once he had worked out his own issues, all he wanted to do was take his experiences and help other students with similar problems. He began volunteering at North View Elementary School, talking with kids and even tutoring in multiple subjects. I’ve never come across anyone who wasn’t immediately enamored by Ted’s amicable demeanor. Throughout his high school career, Ted has excelled in every field of his education and also taken on multiple extra curricular activities. In his senior year, Ted was president of the Student Council, captain of the basketball team, and an honor student. He has become proficient at juggling multiple work loads. He also continued his counseling at the elementary school throughout these years. Even still, he wanted to make a bigger difference. He decided to present his outlook on life by holding a seminar in the gymnasium. Most of the school attended to listen to Ted as he spoke eloquently on overcoming your fears and insecurities and transforming them into positive thinking. It was a captivating 20 minute speech that led to an uproarious standing ovation. Someone managed to film the presentation and the video has thousands of views on YouTube. I am very pleased that Ted approached me to write this letter as I am so impressed by his achievements and his enormous potential. He is a charming young man who is able to see the good in everyone. If Ted is accepted into your Counseling Psychology Program, there’s no doubt in my mind he will excel in this field and go on to change many lives for the better. The confidence and charisma that he has developed over his high school career is phenomenal and I look forward to seeing that continue in college. Please contact me if you wish to further discuss Ted’s acceptance into your college. Regards, William Mackenzie Guidance Counselor Crescent Valley High School
September 1, 2017 Dear Admissions Committee, I am submitting this letter in support of Jim’s application for admission to the Class of 2022 at Michigan State University. I have been Jim’s supervisor at Bellevue Coffee since he was hired in April 2014. In this time, he has consistently shown himself to be a steadfast, professional, and pleasant employee. Though this is his first job, he has demonstrated professional instincts and a bulletproof work ethic since day one. A short anecdote to illustrate Jim’s character: Last Sunday, our early shift barista called out sick. While I, as store manager, would normally cover such an expected absence, I was otherwise occupied with a family medical matter. I reached out to Jim, and he enthusiastically volunteered to take this early shift, even though it meant a 16-hour day for him. Though Jim routinely works 20 hours per week, I understand that he has only improved his grades since starting this job. Being a first-hand witness to his quick-thinking, judgement, and ethic in the workplace, it is hardly surprising to hear that he again made the dean’s list last spring. I have no doubt that Jim will be a successful member of the class of 2022 and offer my wholehearted endorsement of him. Sincerely, Ryan Shannon
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College Recommendation Letter Samples & Writing Guide
It's important to review college recommendation letter samples if you are applying to college soon or if you have been asked to write a letter for a prospective student. In this increasingly competitive admissions climate, college letters of recommendation as just as important as college essays and GPA. Keep reading to learn more about college recommendation letters, how to make sure you secure and write a compelling one, as well as examples of great letters of recommendation that will definitely inspire your own.
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Article Contents 14 min read
What are college recommendation letters and why do they matter.
As the name suggests, college recommendation letters are essentially positive endorsements of an applicant's skills and qualities. Their aim is to recommend the applicant in question for a particular college or university. Most four-year colleges, like the easiest ivy schools to get into , or the best undergraduate business schools, for example, have a holistic admissions process. This means that they want to know the "whole person" behind the IB or AP courses, grades, and test scores. Recommendation letters and personal essays play a significant role in making that happen. They give the admissions board more information about how students view themselves and how others see them.
A strong letter of recommendation holds substantial weight in admissions decisions. It allows the admissions committee to get a better idea of who you are as a person and what you would be like as a student. A strong letter can be the deciding factor between receiving an acceptance letter, an interview invitation, or a rejection letter when the school is faced with two equally qualified applicants.
Want to know more about the college application process? This video will walk you through it:
College recommendation letters should be written by someone familiar with your work, character, and accomplishments. Someone who knows you well enough to illuminate your intellectual and personal qualities will write a better letter than someone who has little knowledge of who you are. Depending on your academic and professional background, there are three main types of letters that you can request from various referees.
A personal reference, also called a character reference, is a letter written by a friend, family member, mentor, neighbor, or anyone who knows the candidate well enough personally and who can attest to the traits that would make them a good addition to the school or program that they are applying to. This type of letter should explain how the writer knows the applicant and discuss the qualities and attributes that make them the ideal candidate. ","label":"Personal references","title":"Personal references"}]' code='tab1' template='BlogArticle'>
Regardless of the type of letter you are requesting, one important thing keeps coming up: the referee should know you well! You do not want writers with whom you have not worked personally or with whom you’ve only had brief interactions. These have not had time to evaluate you and your skills, so they will most likely end up writing a very generic sounding letter. Remember that the recommendation letter is supposed to give the admissions team information about you that can't be found anywhere else in your application.
Before we get into the structure of a recommendation letter, what it needs to include, and those examples that we promised, we want to go over a few things that you need to keep in mind if you want to have recommendation letters that stand out.
- The earlier, the better: Any good college advisor will tell you that you need to start planning and working on your college applications early. College applications have a lot of components that require time and focus to get right. That's why it is ideal for you to request your recommendation letters early, as it gives you more time to focus on other aspects of your college application, like writing your common app essay or reviewing common college interview questions . Furthermore, the earlier you speak with your chosen writers about your reference letter, the sooner they can start working on it. Therefore, the higher your chances of getting a strong letter of recommendation.
- Ask tactfully: It's important to remember that when you're asking for a letter of recommendation, you are essentially asking for a professional favor. It's therefore important to be courteous and professional when asking your chosen writers for one. We recommend doing it face to face whenever possible, but if that's not an option for you, then you may send the request by email. In both cases, you should explicitly ask for a letter of recommendation and provide them with all the information they may need. This brings us to our last point...
- It's your responsibility: As the applicant, it is your responsibility to provide your chosen writers with everything they need to write the strongest letter they can. You should provide them with supporting documents like your supplemental essay, high school resume if you have one, and a short biography to fill in any gaps. They also need to know what format the letter should be in, if anything specific is required by the school, whom they should send the letter to, and when. You should also make sure they have your contact information to get in touch with you if they need additional information. At the end of the day, this is your college application, so you need to follow up with every single component, even if you are not writing your own letter of recommendation .
There is no golden template for college recommendation letters. You just need to make sure that the letter is grammatically correct, easy to read and follow, and communicates the right information. It is important to check the guidelines and instructions given by the school you are applying to. Some colleges can request that references be submitted in a specific format, and it is your responsibility to inform your chosen writers of this. You may have a form that your selected referee will need to fill out or specific questions that the school requires them to answer in their letter.
Unless otherwise stated, we recommend using the following format:
A letter of recommendation is a document that is supposed to highlight an applicant\u2019s positive attributes, skills, and accomplishments. A strong letter will be clear and provide specific examples to back up any claims made about the student. People tend to remember narratives, so this is one of those instances where it is better to show instead of telling. We recommend using brief anecdotes and specific examples of exceptional projects or meaningful interactions. "}]'>
Conclusion and college recommendation letter examples
College letters of recommendation are challenging. Whether you're requesting a letter of recommendation or have been asked to write one for a prospective college student, there are a lot of things that you need to keep in mind. It's important to use a format that is easy to read, a structure that is easy to follow, and to have specific examples that will show the admissions board why a candidate belongs in their school or university. Following the tips outlined above will definitely help you come up with a recommendation letter that is as compelling or maybe even better than the outstanding examples that we'll share with you below.
Have you started working on your college admissions essay? This video has some great tips you can use:
College recommendation letter sample # 1
To whom it may concern,
It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation on behalf of Jane Doe. I have known her for three years, having served as both her English teacher and her supervisor on the XYZ High School newspaper. I firmly believe that Jane would be an excellent addition to the XX College English program.
I have watched Jane grow into a capable and confident leader. She started as one of the junior writers of our high school paper, and from the very beginning, Jane was always early to newspaper meetings, and she always came prepared. Whether it was with research for the stories she wanted to pitch or a pen and paper to take notes on whatever assignment she would get. She worked her way up to features editor and she has been occupying this role for one year.
Her leadership skills are reflected every day in how she delegates work to her assistant staff and motivates the other writers on her team with words and creative contests that appeal to their competitive side. For example, she recently bought two tickets to a concert and offered them as a prize for the junior writer who came up with the most interesting angle for a story about renovating the school cafeteria. All of the writers had been staying away from it because it seemed like a pretty boring subject but now, they are all looking for ways to make it interesting.
She has also been able to manage her commitments to the school paper and the cheerleading team without compromising her grades, which is a testament to her organizational skills. She has consistently been an active participant in class discussions and has demonstrated her impressive written and verbal communication skills through numerous research papers, newspaper articles, and class presentations. Jane intends to spend her years in university honing those communication skills and learning how to be a better journalist, something that I know she is very passionate about and will excel at.
I am confident that Jane would be a great addition to your school, as she has so much to offer, both inside and outside the classroom. If you have any questions regarding Jane's qualifications, please feel free to contact me at (514) 123-4567 or [email protected]
English teacher, XYZ high school
College recommendation letter sample # 2
To Whom It May Concern,
I have had the pleasure of supervising George Yang at BBG Auto dealership for a little over two years now, and I can say without a doubt that he would make a great addition to the student body of ABC program.
I have been impressed with how reliable and responsible George is. Many part-timers in the car dealership business are high school or college students, and often, they require a certain amount of handholding, but this has never been the case with George. From the very beginning, he was always punctual and respectful with customers. One gentleman in particular was so impressed with the service that he received that he booked a separate appointment with me, just to tell me how friendly and helpful George was as he went through the process of buying his daughter’s first car. The customer insisted that George deserved a raise.
Moreover, when he is not using his downtime to catch up on schoolwork, he is either taking initiative and cold calling potential customers to tell them about upcoming promotions that might interest them or helping his coworkers complete additional tasks, like cleaning up the cars in the showroom, updating the price tags on the cars and sometimes even helping the other salespeople close on a deal.
In addition to being a team player, he also shows great leadership potential. At his request, I gave him the opportunity to run one of our promotional campaigns, and he did a fantastic job. He came up with a marketing plan that attracted over 60 customers to the dealership in one day, and he delegated tasks when he had to make sure things ran smoothly. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, in my opinion, he sought help from myself and other members of management whenever he needed it.
George has mentioned that he is interested in pursuing a degree in business, a niche in which I am positive he will excel. His dedication to learning makes him a focused student, and I am optimistic that he will graduate with flying colors.
I give George my highest recommendation for enrollment in the business program in your college, without reservation. Please feel free to contact me at (819) 123-5678 or [email protected] for any further information.
Sales Manager, BBG Auto Dealership
To Whom It May Concern
I am writing this recommendation letter at the request of Jonathan Smith, who is applying for admission to X university. Jonathan has been a student at JKL High School for three years and the captain of our football team for a year now. As the team's coach, I have had the pleasure of getting to know him as an athlete but also as a person and a student.
As an athlete, it is evident that Jonathan strives to win and enjoys the sport in its pure form. As a person, I have watched him learn to be a better leader by listening to his teammates and often asking questions that gave me a pause. I remember a particular instance where he sat next to me on the bus as we were coming back from a game and asked if it was his role to intervene when two team members were having a personal dispute that could potentially affect the game but had not gotten to that point yet. It was one of those moments that showed me that he takes his role as a captain seriously.
As a student, Jonathan is always eager to learn. I have noticed it when we study plays, and he takes careful notes and asks follow-up questions. Many of my colleagues at JKL high school have also commented on his ability to quickly grasp concepts and follow up on the rare occasions where he is not able to do so on the first try. It is one of the main reasons why he was able to secure an ‘A’ in his AP Biology class even though he joined the class later than the other students.
As you can probably tell from the few stories that I have shared with you, Jonathan is a focused young man who takes his responsibilities and commitments very seriously. He has assured me that he is committed to becoming one of the best physical therapists in the country and that X university gives him the best chance of achieving this goal.
I recommend Jonathan for your program without any reservations, as I am confident that he will contribute to your alma matter in great ways, both in and out of the classroom and on the football field. I can be reached by phone at (800) 123-8888 or email at [email protected] if you require any further information.
JKL High School
College recommendation letter sample # 4
It is without hesitation and with great pleasure that I write to you today regarding Aisha Bellgam's application to your prestigious institution. I have been a counselor at XYZ high school for over ten years, and Aisha is one of the most promising students that I have had the pleasure of working with.
Aisha first came to me for guidance during her first year of high school. She was new to the country, unfamiliar with our educational system, and dealing with some pretty heavy family problems that made it difficult for her to focus in school. The reality of my job is that I often have to offer my help to students who need it, or other teachers have to send them to my office. So, as you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised that Aisha had decided to take this step by herself.
Over the years, I have noticed that taking this kind of initiative comes naturally to her. For example, once we had worked through her issues and she was more comfortable in school, she decided to help other students like her. Our school is located in an urban community with many children from immigrant families. Being one herself, Aisha is uniquely qualified to identify some of the things that make it difficult for these children to adapt to their new environment, and she recognized that. In her sophomore year, she came to me and asked if she could volunteer in my office and provide resources to help students new to the country integrate faster.
Furthermore, many of her teachers have commended her for often taking the time to tutor other students after school. Her compassion, willingness to help, and amicable nature are why she was elected president of the student council. They are also the reason I believe that she will excel in college and go on to change many lives for the better after graduation if she is admitted into your social work program.
I am writing this letter today because I wholeheartedly believe that Aisha will be a fantastic addition to your social work program. I have watched her grow into a confident, compassionate young woman who is continually working to better herself and those around her. I look forward to seeing her continue to do so in college and beyond.
Please do not hesitate to contact me by phone at (204) 123-4567 or email at [email protected] for any additional information regarding this application.
XYZ High School counselor
College recommendation letter sample # 5
My name is Jonathan Sheperd, and I am writing to you today in support of Mr. James Doe's application to the pre-med program at X university.
I have been a family physician for over twenty-five years. I currently own and operate a small walk-in clinic in downtown Toronto, and James has been volunteering with us since January 20xx. I have had the pleasure of supervising him and observing him work for over a year now, and I can confidently say that he will make an excellent doctor in the future.
I personally believe that bedside manner is one of the hardest things to teach future doctors, but I do not think that will be the case with James. He is always patient, friendly, and courteous with the incoming patients. I realized this during one of his first full shifts at the clinic when a patient who was having a problem controlling their bowel movements came into the clinic and was looking for assistance. Even some of the most experienced members of my staff were having a hard time staying professional, but James volunteered to help this young man with no complaints, and he did so with a smile. In the end, I heard the patient thank him for helping him through one of the most embarrassing days of his life.
This is the type of great impression that James leaves with patients and colleagues as well. Even though he only works the front desk at the clinic for 20 hours every other week, the entirety of my staff has acknowledged that his willingness to help and work ethic are things we can always rely on. He has often volunteered to work longer hours when we need extra help, and he always accepts new assignments with enthusiasm.
He recently informed me that he made the dean's list again this spring. It did not surprise me because I know that he brings the same level of dedication and work ethic to his studies. He has a very curious mind that is always at work. We actually have a running joke in the office about the little notebook that he carries around and writes in constantly. When I finally asked him about it, he told me that he likes to write down some of the terms that he repeatedly hears in the office so that he can research them or ask his biology teacher about them.
His work ethic and eagerness to learn are undeniable, and I am convinced that they will help him succeed as a student and, later on, as a physician. I strongly recommend this applicant for your pre-medicine program as I believe that his professionalism, positive learning attitude, and thirst for knowledge will make him a great addition to your student body.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions. You can reach me by phone at (618) 123-3698 or email at [email protected]
Dr. Jonathan Sheperd
It's a document that highlights a candidate's skills and qualifications and recommends that they be admitted to a particular college or university.
Very important! College admission boards like to get a sense of who is the applicant is beyond their academic background, and college essays and letters of recommendation allow them to do just that. In other words, a strong letter of recommendation can mean the difference between an acceptance letter and a rejection one.
You can ask your high school teachers, school counselors, mentors, supervisors, etc. Just make sure that it is someone who knows you well enough to talk about your skills and other positive attributes.
The earlier, the better. You should ask for your recommendation letters at the very beginning of your college application process. You can even mention it to your chosen writers before then and simply remind them when it comes time to apply to colleges.
We recommend that you ask for a letter of recommendation face to face. Remember to be polite and professional, be specific in your ask, and provide all the information your referee will need to write a strong letter.
You should provide your chosen writer with supporting documents about your background, like your personal essay or high school resume, and information about the letter format, content, and submission deadline.
Ideally, college recommendation letters shouldn't be longer than one page.
In short, a narrative and specific example. Instead of just telling the admissions board that the applicant is a capable student with leadership skills, it would be best to share an example or a brief anecdote that shows that they are.
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Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!
Anything we didn't cover? Have a question? Ask below or share your comments!
Please can the recommender's email be personal?.
BeMo Academic Consulting
Hello Valetine! Thanks for your comment. It is always best to put down the professional email of your referees, so do your best to include them instead of personal email. However, if your referee is no longer working in an official capacity (retired, for example), you can use their personal email. Though we always recommend using a professional address.
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Letters of Recommendation for College Admission: A Step-by-Step Guide to Asking for Them
Letters of recommendation are an integral part of the college application and acceptance process. A letter of recommendation for college admission is a short document typically written by a teacher, counselor, or mentor highlighting your strengths and potential contributions to a school.
You must carefully choose who will write your letters of recommendation and be thoughtful and responsible when asking for them. To help you steer clear of any missteps, we’re going to answer some of the most common questions about college letters of recommendation and then provide some essential advice.
How Important Are Letters of Recommendation?
To start, it’s common to wonder how important college letters of recommendation are. Here’s the official answer based on research conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC): an applicant’s letters of recommendation are equal to grades and test scores in terms of importance.
But why are recommendation letters important? As Stephanie Gonzalez, the Associate Director of Admissions at Williams College explains in the short video below, schools are looking at each candidate from a holistic perspective. That means the classes you’ve taken, your grades, extracurriculars, and what your teachers say about you as a learner all matter in the decision process.
How Many Letters of Recommendation Do I Need?
The answer to this question is that it depends. Colleges often ask for two or three letters of recommendation, but each institution has different requirements. So, it’s always best to check and be sure about what you need.
Who Can Write a Letter of Recommendation?
Anyone who can attest to your character, drive, experiences, and potential contributions at a new school can write your letter of recommendation. Ideally, though, it will be someone who knows you well, is willing to endorse you, and is considered a leader or authority figure. Since you want to present a well-rounded picture of who you are, you should ask a few different types of people to write your letters if possible.
To start, it always makes sense to ask a high school teacher with whom you have a good relationship. When choosing that teacher, think about the major you’re applying for. For instance, a recommendation from an English teacher can go a long way if you're applying to an English program. It can also be helpful to work on getting one of your letters from a teacher who teaches a core subject. Sure, letters from elective teachers are fantastic. But sometimes, endorsements from core teachers hold more weight.
Next, a teacher or mentor for an extracurricular at your school is another great person to ask. You should choose an extracurricular you’ve been involved with for a while, if possible, hopefully having done something integral to support the group. Alternatively, a counselor at your school could fill in here if you don’t have extracurricular participation to rely on.
Finally, if you need a third letter, consider asking a community leader who knows you well. That could be a church leader, someone at an organization you volunteer with, or even someone you’ve worked for during your summer breaks.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College
Asking for a letter of recommendation can feel awkward. But know that most teachers view students asking them for a recommendation as a positive — you trust or think highly of them, so much so that you want them to be a part of your college application process.
Moreover, you’ve got exciting plans and dreams for your future, which speaks to the success of the teachers and mentors in your life. That said, they’re doing you a favor. They’re not required to write college letters of recommendation. Nor are they required to write positive recommendations. So, you’ll want to be upfront, courteous, and thankful in addition to following these essential tips:
Cultivate the relationship before asking for a letter of recommendation.
The time you need to build these relationships will vary depending on the context. But in general, be thoughtful and think about ways to give and connect before asking for their help.
Ask in person for the letter unless that’s not an option.
Asking in person demonstrates respect and thoughtfulness. So, try to catch the person one-on-one and in private to make the request. If you’re asking one of your teachers, you should schedule a brief meeting with them during their planning time.
Give them at least two months to write the letter of recommendation.
What? You’re probably surprised to hear that or wondering exactly how long letters of recommendation take. Most high school counselors tell us they can take between three and eight weeks. Counselors tend to have more letters to write, so they usually take a little longer to complete them than teachers do.
Remember, you probably aren’t the only student asking for a letter, but you can be the most thoughtful by requesting yours early and being patient. (Requesting them late in the spring or right before summer break of your junior year can be a smart way to demonstrate your organization and planning)
Share the essential information for your letter.
Tell them when your earliest application is due, answer all their questions, and offer to send additional information in an email. Then, in that email, share your legal and preferred name and pronouns, why you asked them to write your letter, and the majors and colleges you plan to pursue.
Your recommenders may also ask if there’s anything specific you want them to talk about in the letter. For instance, if you’re entering an English program, perhaps they can write about a great argument you made in your last essay. It’s also helpful to provide your recommenders with cool and notable things you’ve done, maybe in the email we mentioned above.
Write a thank you letter or note as a follow-up.
We know you’re busy, but it’s essential to take the time to thank the people who write letters for you. So, grab a thank you card the next time you’re at the store, or write a brief note expressing gratitude. It will be worth your time - we promise.
Can I Reuse Letters of Recommendation Multiple Times?
Definitely! Reusing one teacher’s recommendation for multiple colleges can save you much time and is an intelligent way to handle the process. Depending on how you’re filling out the applications - whether on the college or university’s site or an application platform, you’ll have to deal with each situation differently.
You may need the person sending the letter of recommendation to submit it separately each time. The easiest way to reuse letters of recommendation is usually on an application platform, where the letters are automatically used as often as you apply to colleges.
What is a FERPA Waiver?
FERPA is a complicated law, so we’ll stick to the basics here. Essentially, FERPA regulates the privacy of student education records , including but not limited to your college application and all attached components.
Signing a FERPA Waiver means that, should you request your college records at a later date, you will not be given access to your letters of recommendation.
Should I Sign the FERPA Waiver?
Yes, you should sign the FERPA Waiver. It indicates to colleges and universities that the letters associated with your application are truthful and unchanged. But what about reading your letters of recommendation first?
Can I Still See My Letters of Recommendation Before They’re Sent?
Some recommenders have no problem showing students their letters of recommendation before they send or seal them. On the other hand, many won’t agree to write a letter if you insist on seeing it before it’s sent or choose not to sign the FERPA agreement.
Colleges want to see unfiltered thoughts about their applicants, and recommenders are more likely to speak honestly about a student if they know the student is not going to see what they say before the letter is sent. All of this explains why choosing the right people to write your recommendations is crucial!
Common App Letters of Recommendation
The Common Application, or Common App , makes the process of getting letters of recommendation easy. Mainly because it’s all handled right on the platform.
Common App gives you four recommendation types: Personal, Professional, Academic, and High School Official. You can invite recommenders and provide them with context, i.e., “I was in your AP English class last year as a junior. I did a presentation on The Portrait of Dorian Gray that received an A (plus extra credit! Thank you!), and I would love it if you could work this into the recommendation.”
You can also monitor the status of your letters of recommendation. Once they’re all in, you can easily assign letters of recommendation to any (or all) schools you apply to.
You may want to send those notifications out post-haste, but make sure you always ask for letters of recommendation separately from the Common App platform FIRST. It isn’t polite to send a request through the Common App platform without first speaking to the person ahead of time. Moreover, it will not reassure them that you deserve a positive recommendation. So be sure to make the formal request before submitting the Common App request.
Final Thoughts on College Letters of Recommendation
By following the advice above, you’ll easily navigate the process of asking for and receiving your letters of recommendation. Just remember to start the process early and be thoughtful and organized with your communication.
Still, you may be wondering if going through this effort is worth it and which schools you should prioritize in the application process. With the Cappex College Acceptance Calculator, you can calculate your chances of getting into any college . Find out where you rank for the schools you are considering. Determine if the schools on your list are reach schools or safety schools so you can make the best use of your time.
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How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation
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Some colleges will ask for two or three letters of recommendation during the application process. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality.
Why do colleges ask for recommendations? Colleges value recommendations because they:
- Show your talents beyond test scores and grades.
- Describe real-life examples of your personality and character .
- Discuss your relationships in the academic community.
A recommendation letter can help your application stand out, especially when it highlights your skills, accomplishments, and positive attitude toward education.
When Should I Ask for a Recommendation Letter?
Teachers need as much time as possible to complete a recommendation letter. They often have many recommendation letters to write, along with lesson planning and grading.
You should try to get your request to them as soon as possible, but give your references at least a month to complete and submit your letters. The start of your senior year is a good time to begin asking teachers for recommendation letters, especially if you’re applying for early decision. Remember, the more time your teacher has, the more likely they'll write you a thoughtful, detailed letter.
Who Should I Ask to Write a Letter of Recommendation?
It's up to you to find people to write academic letters of recommendation. These tips can help you through the process:
- Read each of your college applications carefully. Schools often ask for letters of rec from a specific person, such as a core subject teacher, specific subject teacher, or school counselor.
- Get advice from teachers, counselors, and family members on who would be best to write your recommendation letters.
- Be sure to select a current teacher or one from your junior year, preferably one who knows you well. Don't choose teachers you had several years ago, since colleges want to know who you are and what you are like now.
- Teachers who know you outside of the classroom are a good choice. Consider a teacher who led a club you were in.
- If requested by the college, you can also think about other adults who know you well. A coach, employer, or club adviser can say a lot about your skills and character. Ask your admissions officer if it okay to submit recommendations beyond what is required by the college.
- Above all else, choose someone who will be enthusiastic about writing your letter.
- If you’re unsure about asking someone in particular, politely ask if he or she feels comfortable recommending you. That’s a good way to avoid letters that sound weak or forced.
How to Be Sure You Get a Glowing Letter of Recommendation
Some teachers write many recommendation letters each year. While teachers don't intend to, their letters can start to seem generic after a while. Make it easy for them to give positive, detailed information about your achievements and your potential by refreshing their memory so that they can share specific details about your school career.
It can also be helpful to provide your teacher with a resume or “brag sheet.” Something you might want to include on your brag sheet or in your discussion with your teacher include:
- Your class participation
- Some of your best work/projects
- What you learned in their class
- Anything they need to discuss for specific work examples
If you need to get a college letter of recommendation from a counselor, be sure to do the following:
- Make an appointment to meet with your counselor if that’s an option, or follow your school’s specific process for receiving a counselor recommendation.
- Discuss your skills, accomplishments, and hobbies. Also, talk about what you want to do in college and beyond.
- If you have low grades or any other issues on your transcript, talk to your counselor about what happened and what you've done to improve.
It's also a good idea to follow up with your teacher or counselor to see if they have any questions on what is listed on the brag sheet or need more information. And don’t forget to say, “Thank you!”
Final Recommendation Tips
Before asking for a letter of recommendation, remember these tips:
- Waive your right to view recommendation letters on your application forms. Admission officers will trust them more if you haven’t seen them.
- Requests for recommendations are often sent via email. Make sure that they have the correct email address of the recommender.
- Let teachers know the deadline for each college and ask them about their preferred turnaround time.
- You can keep track of your letter of recommendation submissions in your application portal. You can politely follow up with your teacher if the deadline is approaching but you see your letter has not been submitted yet.
- Once your letters are complete, write a thank-you note to your references. Once you decide which college to attend, you can also tell your references where you’re going and let them know how much you appreciate their support.
Below are some of students' most-asked questions about how to ask for a college letter of recommendation.
How do I address a recommendation letter?
Be sure to give your teacher or counselor the instructions for how the recommendation will be submitted, but most recommendations are sent through an application portal. Instructions are usually provided to the recommender in the electronic request they receive from the portal.
How do I ask teachers for letters of recommendation?
It can seem daunting to ask a teacher for a recommendation, but remember that your teachers are among your biggest supporters and they want you to succeed.
The best way to ask is to simply ask. Find a time when your teacher isn't busy and ask them directly. Don't go with friends, and try to avoid emailing. Be sure you have any information your teacher may need to write the recommendation and give them plenty of time to complete it.
How should I ask for a letter of recommendation by email?
Try to avoid asking by email if at all possible. However, if you're in an unavoidable situation—for example, you or your teacher changed schools—then emailing is fine. Start by reminding them of who you are, and tell them something specific you liked about their class.
Be sure to include any links they may need. In most cases, once you have asked your teacher or counselor if they are willing to write a letter of recommendation, you will then submit the recommendation request via your application platform, like Common App. Your teacher or counselor will receive the request directly from the portal. You should confirm specific instructions for each institution or scholarship that you need a recommendation for. If the letter has to be sent through the mail, get their mailing address so that you can send them the information plus an addressed and stamped envelope.
How do I politely ask for a letter of recommendation for college?
Some teachers get so many requests for college recommendation letters that they simply can't accept them all. You can often make yourself stand out just by being polite.
Ask your teacher at an appropriate time during the day, and be sure to ask as far in advance as possible. Provide your teacher with anything they may need, like an email address or letter template, work samples, resume, and anything else that can be helpful. When you make it easy on your teacher, they'll be more likely to say yes.
How do I request a letter of recommendation from a principal?
Stop by the school office or send an email requesting a meeting with your principal. Be direct, and ask politely. As your principal probably won't have as much knowledge of your academics, you should prepare a summary and a resume. Don't forget to ask your principal as far in advance of the letter's due date as possible.
How do I ask for a letter of recommendation from someone I don't know well?
While you should always try to choose teachers who know you well for your recommendation letters, sometimes, you have no option. You should only use this option if the school you are applying to requires a letter of recommendation and you have not established a relationship with any teachers or counselors. Otherwise, you should always ask someone who knows you well. When asking someone you don't know well, the best option can often be asking them in person and then telling them more about who you are.
If the first conversation goes well, you can send a follow up email more information and consider requesting another meeting. Since they don't know you well, be sure to have a resume and a summary of your time and accomplishments in their class.
Who should I not ask for a letter of recommendation?
You may be tempted to ask a well-known teacher, but if that teacher doesn't know you well, the letter won't mean a lot. You should also avoid teachers that you had several years ago.
Don't ask a family member or a friend for a recommendation as a college may not take them seriously. You should always follow the guidelines from the colleges you are applying to when choosing who to write your letter of recommendation. Finally, if you have a teacher that doesn't have the best opinion of you, avoid asking them for a recommendation letter.
What should a college letter of recommendation include?
A recommendation letter should feel personal to the school: The teacher should state why you'd be a good fit for that particular college, and should include information that will not be found elsewhere on your application. For example, your letter of recommendation shouldn’t repeat the list of student activities already on your college application. It should include any relevant projects or work you've done. Experiences that relate to your character and academic potential are helpful, too. The teacher should include specific details about their experiences with you. Letters of recommendations can be brief and bullet points are fine! Remember that admissions officers are reading thousands of these letters, so sometimes less is more.
3 Incredible College Recommendation Letter Samples To Help Your Child Get Into College & Win Scholarships
While it is important to have a high GPA and great test scores, your teacher recommendation letters might just make the difference between whether or not you get into your dream school.
Colleges and universities want to see that their applicants are well-rounded, passionate, and determined. Thousands upon thousands of students can earn a 4.0 GPA, but far fewer students are able to do so while also demonstrating strong leadership skills, advanced critical thinking skills, and impeccable character.
Schools rely on recommendations from teachers to get a more holistic view of their applicants, allowing them to see which students have what it takes to thrive on their campus and contribute to the institutions.
If you want to get into your dream school, you are going to need to get great letters of recommendation from your teachers that showcase your strengths.
The last thing you want is a generic letter that makes it sound like you were just another face in a sea of hundreds of students within a teacher’s classroom.
Asking teachers who know you well and giving them plenty of advanced notice (at least two weeks) will help you receive better recommendations.
Here are four college recommendation letter samples of effective letters that will help you know what type of letter can boost your chances of admission:
Dear Admissions Committee,
My name is Mr. Smith, and I have had the honor of teaching John in AP Literature and Composition at High School X, during which I noticed his impeccable character, discipline, and leadership. John is a self-motivated student who always went above and beyond in my class. It is a pleasure to recommend him.
John has an insatiable desire to learn, and he demonstrated this throughout his year in my class. His questions were insightful and eloquent, and he produced work that was far above that of the average student. John’s writing and research skills are phenomenal. For his final project, he produced a truly remarkable essay analyzing cultural identity in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. John’s academic strengths are unparalleled, and I know he will be an asset to your institution.
John’s character is also impressive. He acts with generosity and compassion, and he is well respected by his peers and teachers alike. John is a natural leader, and he was such a joy to have in class.
As a learner and a leader, John is beyond exemplary. He has my strongest recommendation. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
High School X
It is with great pleasure that I recommend Jill for admission to your institution. Jill is one of the strongest students I have taught in my 22 years of teaching, and I am beyond impressed by her academic performance and her leadership skills. Jill was in my AP Literature and Composition class, and I had the honor of coaching her on the High School X debate team. I am happy to recommend her, and I know that she will be a great addition to your university.
As captain of the debate team, Jill has spent countless hours conducting research and analyzing sources to prepare for our competitions. Her hard work and dedication led to her winning first place at the Iowa State Tournament this year. Jill not only has a strong aptitude for learning and debate, but she is also a strong leader. I watched her go beyond what is required of her to take students under her wing and help them become better debaters throughout our season. She is an incredible captain that understands the importance of leading by example and serving others. I firmly believe that both her personal and academic strengths will contribute greatly to your school.
Jill is an exceptional student, and she has my strongest recommendation. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
It has been a pleasure to have Jason in my English classes over the past four years. Jason is an exceptional student, and I have long been impressed by both his academic and interpersonal skills. Throughout the years that I have known Jason, his natural curiosity and desire for learning, his maturity and leadership, and his desire to serve his community have been remarkable. He has my strongest recommendation for admittance into your institution.
In my AP Literature and Composition class, Jason wrote some of the most insightful papers I have read in my 12 years of teaching. I was blown away by his analytical skills and his ability to make connections between different texts. His paper on Toni Morrison’s Sula, was one of the most incredible pieces of student work that I have ever had the joy to read.
Jason’s personal strengths are also strong. He treats his peers and teachers with respect, and he is one of the most compassionate and gracious students I have had in class. Jason is a strong applicant, and I know he will be the perfect addition to your university.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
Dear admissions committee,
Teaching AP Physics at High School X is rewarding because of students like Abigail. I have had the joy of watching Abigail’s critical thinking skills and passion for science grow over the past four years in my AP Physics class and as captain of the High School X Robotics team. Abigail is one of the brightest and hardest working students I have had in all of my years of teaching, and it is truly an honor to recommend her for admission to your institution.
Abigail takes her position as captain of the Robotics team very seriously. I have seen her go above and beyond what is required of her to make new members feel welcome and ensure our team is prepared to do well during our competitions. I have never met a student with her level of dedication and passion for sciences, and I know she will be a strong addition to your school’s engineering program.
In addition to her academic strengths, Abigail also has strong leadership skills. She always takes initiative, tackles challenges head on, and serves as a role model for the other students on the team. I know her work ethic and leadership abilities will make a positive impact at your institution.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
Robotics Team Coach
These four college recommendation letter samples are so strong because they highlight the student’s strengths, back these qualifications with strong and specific examples, and use language that makes it clear that they know the student well.
When you request a letter of recommendation from your educators, make sure you choose teachers that know you well enough to write insightful, detailed letters of recommendation. It might just make the difference that helps you get accepted into a great college.
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The Truth About Recommendation Letters
Grades and test scores are important factors when evaluating college applications , but they don’t tell the whole story. When admissions officers evaluate applicants, they review both “hard factors” (quantitative measures like GPA) as well as “soft factors,” such as essays, extracurricular activities, demonstrated interest, and recommendation letters.
What role do letters of recommendation play during the college admissions process? They help round out your applicant profile, provide insights into what you are like as a student and person, and put the rest of your application in context. Letters of recommendation are particularly valuable to admissions officers because the experiences that high school counselors and teachers describe can help them paint a better overall picture of who you are and the impact you will have on campus.
Most selective colleges and universities require one to three recommendation letters with your application, usually from your guidance counselor and at least one teacher. Recommendation letters are typically submitted electronically through the school-specific supplements on The Common Application . It’s important to be strategic about who you choose to write your recommendation letters since there is usually a limit on how many you can submit on the Common App.
Whom to Ask for College Recommendation Letters
It’s never too early to think about recommendation letters. Build and foster relationships with teachers and counselors from day one so that you not only get the most out of your classes but also have people who can advocate on your behalf when it comes time to apply to colleges.
At IvyWise , we recommend students identify whom they would like to write recommendation letters before the end of junior year. Junior year teachers or senior year teachers are usually the best for writing recommendations, since they are more likely to have taught you in a high-level course, taught you over a few years, and/or know you in different capacities.
It can also be beneficial to prioritize getting a recommendation letter from a teacher in the subject that is relevant to the course of study you intend to pursue. For example, if you plan to apply to college as an engineering major, a letter from your physics teacher might hold more weight than one from your English teacher.
When to Ask for College Recommendation Letters
Don’t wait until the last minute to reach out to teachers and counselors to ask if they will write on your behalf. Instead, it’s best to start the conversation about recommendation letters early by getting in touch with the teachers you choose during the end of your junior year or the very beginning of your senior year. This will give them ample time to plan and draft a thoughtful and comprehensive letter that they can submit well before your application deadlines. Provide your teacher with proper instructions and any other materials they may need to reference, such as your resume or a great assignment you completed in their class.
Some schools place limits on how many recommendations teachers or counselors may write, which is why it is so important to approach them early to ensure they are able to write a letter for you. You can assume that popular instructors will have a lot of students asking for recommendations. If you wait too long, they may not have time to write a compelling letter for you.
Other College Recommendation Letter Tips:
- Avoid recommendation letters from well-known or influential people who don’t know you well or personally. Having someone write on your behalf just because they are “cool” or impressive doesn’t boost your application; it can actually hurt it. It’s better to have recommendations from people who know you very well and can expand on your academic and extracurricular strengths.
- Don’t ask to see the recommendation letter before it’s submitted or ask what a person wrote after its submission. This puts the writer in an awkward position and could potentially hinder their honesty and thoughtfulness. If you are that worried about what a teacher may have to say, you probably shouldn’t be asking that teacher for a recommendation in the first place.
- If a school advises you not to submit additional letters of recommendation, then don’t. You don’t want to give the admissions officers extra materials that are not requested and they will remember that you didn’t follow explicit instructions.
- Don’t forget to say “thank you!” After your teachers have submitted their letters of recommendation, take some time to write out your own letter of gratitude. Let them know you appreciate that they took the time to write a recommendation for you. Remember, teachers are not required to do this.
While recommendation letters are just one of many application components, they are a unique and particularly critical part of completing a full personal and academic profile and require strategic planning. Be proactive and think about this early so that when the time comes, you will feel prepared and confident about asking for those letters. At IvyWise, we work with students on every facet of the college application, from activities and essays to guidance on how to select the best-fit teachers to write letters of recommendation. For more information on our college counseling services , contact us today!
For a more in-depth look at recommendation letters and what they add to your college application, be sure to check out additional resources in the IvyWise KnowledgeBase! And check out our deep dive into all you need to know for the Harvard letter of recommendation .
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 4 amazing recommendation letter samples for students.
Letters of Recommendation
How important are recommendation letters in a college application? According to William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, they are "extremely important."
If you're a student, examples of great letters of recommendation can help you understand how to get strong letters yourself from your teachers. If you're a teacher, the examples in this guide will inspire you to support your students strongly as they apply to college. Keep reading for four excellent letters from teachers that will get anyone into college , along with expert analysis on why they're so strong.
Important Note: Are you looking for job recommendation letters? If so, check out my great post here!
First, let's understand the role of recommendation letters in your application.
Why are Recommendation Letters Important?
The majority of admissions officers at four-year colleges, especially private schools, emphasize that their process is holistic . They seek to gain a sense of the student as a "whole person," rather than focusing on pieces of who she is based solely on grades and test scores. Since they rarely meet the student in person, the recommendation letters, along with the student's own personal essay, play a huge role in illuminating her intellectual and personal qualities.
That's why recommendation letters from teachers, especially those who know their students well, carry a great deal of weight in applications. A letter that expresses a strong vote of support, as well as highlights a student's impressive academic and personal strengths , can have a powerful effect on that student's chances of admission.
Let's look at some samples of strong recommendation letters, one from an English teacher, another from a physics teacher, the third from a history teacher, and the final one from a math teacher. Then we'll break down exactly why these letters of recommendation are effective.
The first example recommends Sara, a senior who loves to write and read poetry.
Sample Letter #1: Sara the Poet
Dear Admissions Committee, I had the pleasure of teaching Sara in her 11th grade honors English class at Mark Twain High School. From the first day of class, Sara impressed me with her ability to be articulate about difficult concepts and texts, her sensitivity to the nuances within literature, and her passion for reading, writing, and creative expression- both in and out of the classroom. Sara is a talented literary critic and poet, and she has my highest recommendation as a student and writer. Sara is talented at considering the subtleties within literature and the purpose behind authors' works. She produced an extraordinary year-long thesis paper on creative identity development, in which she compared works from three different time periods and synthesized cultural and historical perspectives to inform her analysis. When called upon to give her thesis defense in front of her peers, Sara spoke clearly and eloquently about her conclusions and responded to questions in a thoughtful way. Outside of the classroom, Sara is dedicated to her literary pursuits, especially to poetry. She publishes her poetry in our school's literary magazine, as well as in online magazines. She is an insightful, sensitive, and deeply self-aware individual driven to explore art, writing, and a deeper understanding of the human condition. Throughout the year Sara was an active participant in our discussions, and she always supported her peers. Her caring nature and personality allow her to work well with others in a team setting, as she always respects others' opinions even when they differ from her own. When we held a class debate about gun laws, Sara opted to speak for the side opposite her own views. She explained her choice as motivated by a desire to put herself in other people's shoes, view the issues from a new perspective, and gain a clearer sense of the issue from all angles. Throughout the year, Sara demonstrated this openness to and empathy for the opinions, feelings, and perspectives of others, along with shrewd powers of observation, all qualities that makes her outstanding as a student of literature and burgeoning writer. I am certain that Sara is going to continue to do great and creative things in her future. I highly recommend her for admission to your undergraduate program. She is talented, caring, intuitive, dedicated, and focused in her pursuits. Sara consistently seeks out constructive feedback so she can improve her writing skills, which is a rare and impressive quality in a high school student. Sara is truly a stand-out individual who will impress everyone she meets. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at [email protected] Sincerely, Ms. Scribe English Teacher Mark Twain High School
This is a thorough, glowing recommendation for a student that Ms. Scribe clearly knows well. What other features make it stand out as a strong letter of rec?
Ms. Scribe has a high opinion of Sara and her skills at writing and literary analysis. One way that she expresses this is by using powerful and specific language. She doesn't merely say Sara is a good writer. She says she's articulate about difficult concepts and sensitive to the nuances within literature. She calls her insightful and self-aware with shrewd powers of observation.
These descriptors don't happen by accident. Ms. Scribe took the time to choose her words carefully , and that effort paid off with a strong letter that captures Sara's special qualities.
Ms. Scribe also supports her characterization of Sara with examples . She describes her thesis paper and how she responded to questions thoughtfully under the pressured situation of her thesis defense. She gives the example of the debate on gun laws to illustrate Sara's openness to many different points of view.
In addition to illuminating her intellectual and personal strengths and supporting them with specific examples, Ms. Scribe speaks to Sara's goals for the future. She points out that she is talented at writing, poetry specifically, and that she is committed to continuing to improve as a writer in her future.
This letter, by virtue of its wording, length, and specificity, shows that Ms. Scribe took the time and effort to recommend Sara thoughtfully and with conviction. The fact that she knows Sara well and is committed to helping her application succeed with a thoughtful letter further adds weight to her assessment.
This letter would be a boon to Sara's application, especially if she's applying to study writing or English. She clearly impressed her English teacher and, in return, got a memorable, complimentary letter of recommendation for her college application.
This next example is similarly enthusiastic and detailed. It's for a student applying to an engineering program.
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Sample Letter #2: Stacy the Engineer
Dear Admissions Committee, It is a great pleasure to recommend Stacy for admission to your engineering program. She is one of the most exceptional students I have encountered in my 15 years of teaching. I taught Stacy in my 11th grade honors physics class and advised her in Robotics Club. I am not surprised to find out she is now ranked at the top of an extraordinarily capable class of seniors. She has a keen interest in and talent for physics, math, and scientific inquiry. Her advanced skills and passion for the subject make her an ideal fit for your rigorous engineering program. Stacy is a perceptive, sharp, quick individual with a high aptitude for math and science. She is driven to understand how things work, whether they be the old computer hard drives in the school library or the forces that hold our universe together. Her final project in class was especially impressive, an investigation of frequency-dependent sound absorption, an idea that she said was sparked by not wanting to bother her parents with her hours of guitar practice at home. She's been a strong leader in Robotics Club, eager to share her knowledge with others and learn new skills. I have the students in the club prepare lessons and take turns leading our after-school meetings. When it was Stacy's turn, she showed up prepared with a fascinating lecture on lunar nautics and fun activities that got everyone moving and talking. She was our only student teacher to be met with much deserved applause at the end of her lesson. Stacy's personal strengths are as impressive as her intellectual accomplishments. She's an active, outgoing presence in class with a great sense of humor. Stacy's the perfect person to get a group project rolling, but she also knows how to sit back and let others take the lead. Her cheerful nature and openness to feedback means she's always learning and growing as a learner, an impressive strength that will continue to serve her well in college and beyond. Stacy is just the kind of driven, engaging, and curious student that helped make our classroom a lively environment and safe place to take intellectual risks. Stacy has my highest recommendation for admission to your engineering program. She has demonstrated excellence in all that she puts her mind to, whether it's designing an experiment, collaborating with others, or teaching herself to play classical and electrical guitar. Stacy's endless curiosity, combined with her willingness to take risks, leads me to believe there will be no limit to her growth and achievements in college and beyond. Please don't hesitate to contact me at [email protected] if you have any questions. Sincerely, Ms. Randall Physics Teacher Marie Curie High School
Ms. Randall is clearly as much of a fan of Stacy as she is of Mileva Marić. How does she communicate her recommendation?
Ms. Randall plugs for Stacy right off the bat with a statement of outstanding ranking : Stacy is one of the most exceptional students she's had in 15 years of teaching. A statement like this is pretty extraordinary and will make an impact in the mind of its readers. Stacy sounds like a special student, and she chose her recommender well.
Like in the last example, this letter uses strong, specific language , calling Stacy a perceptive and sharp person who has the confidence and good humor to take intellectual risks. Through its accurate and expressive language, this letter helps Stacy come to life in the mind of the reader.
Beyond the evaluation, Ms. Randall gives specific examples of Stacy's academic and personal strengths. She talks about her successful teaching in Robotics Club, her leadership in group projects, and her dedicated practice to teaching herself to play the guitar.
Rather than spreading the letter too thin, Ms. Randall highlights a few core themes. She connects Stacy's love of music with her passion for physics by talking about the frequency-dependent sound absorption project. All the threads tie together in a nice, memorable bow.
This letter is a strong vote of support for Stacy's application to an engineering program. Her physics teacher admires Stacy's skills and goals, and she made it clear that Stacy had her highest recommendation in this letter.
This next example also comes from a teacher who's extremely impressed with his student. It focuses on the student's performance in class and his volunteer work outside the classroom.
Sample Letter #3: William the History Buff and Social Organizer
Dear Admissions Committee, It is hard to overstate the meaningful contributions that William has made to our school and surrounding community. As both his 10th and 11th grade History teacher, I've had the pleasure of seeing William make profound contributions both in and out of the classroom. His school and community service is motivated by a strong sense of social justice, which he informs through a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of historical trends and events. I can say with confidence that William is one of the most caring and driven students I've ever taught in my fifteen years at the school. As a child of immigrant parents, William is especially drawn to understand the immigrant experience. He produced an extraordinary semester-long research paper on the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the U.S. during WWII, in which he went beyond all expectations to conduct Skype interviews with relatives of his featured subjects to incorporate into his paper. William has a great capacity to draw connections between past and present and to ground his understanding of current issues in the context of historical events. He never retreats to a simple answer or explanation, but is comfortable dealing with ambiguity. William's fascination with U.S. and World History and skill for deep analysis have him an exemplary scholar, as a well as a motivated activist driven to promote civil rights and work towards social equity. In sophomore year, William noticed that the college planning seminars students attended included little information for first generation or immigrant students. Always thinking about how institutions can better serve people, William spoke with counselors and ESL teachers about his ideas to better support all students. He helped collect resources and design a college planning curriculum for immigrant and undocumented students to enhance their college access. He further helped organize a group that connected ESL students with native English speakers, stating his mission to be helping ELLs improve their English and increasing multicultural awareness and social cohesion at the school as a whole. William identified a need and worked with students and faculty alike to meet it in an extremely effective and beneficial way. Ever the history scholar, he did plenty of research to back up his ideas. William believes passionately in social progress and working for the common good. His own personal experiences, along with his profound grasp on social history, drive his advocacy work. He is a talented, intelligent student with the charisma, confidence, strong values, and respect for others to make a huge difference in the world around him. I'm looking forward to seeing all the good that William continues to do for his fellow humanity in college and beyond, as well as the excellent work that he will produce at the college level. William has my highest recommendation. If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected] Sincerely, Mr. Jackson History Teacher Martin Luther King, Jr. High School
Mr. Jackson's letter makes William sound like a pretty amazing student and person. How does he go about expressing his admiration for William in this rec letter?
Like Ms. Randall did in her letter, Mr. Jackson provides a statement of outstanding ranking for William, calling him one of the most caring and driven students he's ever taught. Considering his long teaching career of 15 years, this says a lot about William as a student and a person.
Also like in the last example, Mr. Jackson focuses on a few core aspects of William's character. He talks about his love of history and how it informs his social activism. He comments on his exceptional historical scholarship, as well as his personal qualities of caring for those around him and working for the social good.
Mr. Jackson also gives insight into William's personal life , explaining how he has a personal connection to his projects and volunteer work as the child of immigrant parents. This letter reveals that William is a thoughtful, motivated individual who connects his own experiences with his learning and desire to contribute to his community.
The letter also showcases William's exceptional accomplishments by giving specific examples of William's research paper and his work supporting the academic and personal needs of ELL students. Mr. Jackson expresses his enthusiastic recommendation while illuminating William's love of learning and strength of character. This letter would be both impressive and memorable to admissions officers considering William for admission to their school.
This next example comes from a math teacher. Let's see what Mr. Wiles has to say about Joe.
Sample Letter #4: Joe the Hard Worker
Dear Admissions Committee, It is my pleasure to recommend Joe, who I taught in my 11th grade math class. Joe demonstrated tremendous effort and growth throughout the year and brought a great energy to class. He has that combination of a positive attitude and the belief that he can always improve that's rare in a high school student, but so essential to the learning process. I am confident that he will continue to display the same commitment and diligence in everything he does. I highly recommend Joe for admission to your school. Joe would not describe himself as a math person. He's told me on several occasions that all the numbers and variables make his mind go fuzzy. Joe did, in fact, struggle to comprehend the material at the beginning of the year, but his response to this is what really struck me. Where so many others have given up, Joe took on this class as a welcome challenge. He stayed after school for extra help, got extra tutoring at the nearby college, and asked questions in and out of class. Due to all his hard work, Joe not only raised his grades, but he also inspired some of his classmates to stay after for extra help, as well. Joe truly demonstrated a growth mindset, and he inspired his peers to adopt that valuable perspective, too. Joe helped contribute to our classroom environment as one where all students can feel supported and able to ask questions. Joe's strong belief in his ability to acquire new skills and improve through practice was likely shaped by his years as a baseball player. He's played all through high school and is one of the team's most valuable players. In his final for our class, Joe designed an impressive project calculating and analyzing batting averages. While he initially described himself as not a math person, Joe reaped the benefits of his tremendous effort and found a way to make the subject come alive for him in a way that he was personally invested in. As a teacher, it is incredibly fulfilling to witness a student make this kind of academic and personal progress. Joe is a trustworthy, reliable, good-humored student and friend who supports others in and out of the classroom. He was a pleasure to have in class, and his positive attitude and belief in himself, even in the face of difficulty, is an immensely admirable asset. I'm confident that he will continue to demonstrate the same diligence, perseverance, and optimism that he showed myself and his peers. I highly recommend Joe for admission to your undergraduate program. Please feel free to contact me with any further questions at [email protected] Sincerely, Mr. Wiles Math Teacher Euclid High School
While the students featured in the first three examples were top of their class or demonstrated leadership in the school, Joe isn't a top achiever in the traditional sense. However, this recommendation is still a strong one, even if it says he struggled in the teacher's class. What does Mr. Wiles focus on to recommend Joe?
Mr. Wiles writes a strong letter for Joe, with the same kind of enthusiasm and specific examples as the other three letters. Even though Joe may not have gotten the strongest grades in his math class, he found an enthusiastic recommender in his math teacher. Mr. Wiles was extremely impressed with Joe's attitude, effort, and growth mindset , which he demonstrated throughout the year and inspired in his fellow classmates.
Mr. Wiles focuses on Joe's substantial personal strengths, ones that would likely be impressive to his future educators. Even in a subject that may not come naturally to him, Joe is diligent and committed. He's not self-conscious about asking questions or seeking extra help, and he retains a strong belief in himself that he can continuously learn, improve, and acquire new skills.
This letter, like the others, is effective because it is focused, supportive, and backed up with examples. As you can tell from these examples, recommendations can communicate a great deal about a student. Because of this, they can have a powerful impact on a student's chances of admission. So what can teachers and students do to make sure they are sending a strong recommendation letter that will help their chances?
Enthusiasm is key.
How to Get a Strong Recommendation Letter
While these letters are about different students with different interests, they share certain fundamental features. One, they sound excited and enthusiastic. The teachers clearly communicate that they are impressed by these students and eager to help them get into college.
At the same time, the letters don't go overboard because they have examples to back up their assessments. Specific examples and stories are key for backing up the assessment. Plus, they make a letter more interesting and memorable. Rather than just another engineering applicant, Stacy is the student who researched sound-absorption to spare her parents from hours of guitar scales.
Finally, the teachers all discuss their students' personal strengths , along with their academic strengths. They present the holistic view that admissions officers are looking for, along with their strong vote of confidence in the students' future success.
Teachers should incorporate all these features into their letters, and students should help provide them with the raw material to write about. While students should choose a teacher who knows them well and has stories and observations to share, they should also give their teachers a detailed "brag sheet" and let them know what would go into their ideal letter. That way it can be even more personalized and complement the story the student is telling in the rest of her application.
While recommenders may or may not share their letters with students, there should still be open, two-way communication when the student makes her request . That way students and teachers can work together to produce an insightful, enthusiastic, and specific letter of recommendation to send to colleges.
Are you a teacher writing recommendations for your students? Read all about how to write an outstanding recommendation letter for your students , along with what not to include.
Are you or a student you work with applying to a selective school, like Harvard? Learn about what kind of letter she should get for the Ivy League.
Now that you've read these examples of strong teacher recommendation letters, check out these examples of bad ones . Warning: rec letters may appear better than they actually are.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.
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College Recommendation Letter Sample & FAQs
The College Recommendation Letter – An Introduction
As you begin your college application process, you will likely hear a lot about college recommendation letters. In this guide, with insight from CollegeAdvisor’s expert Admission Officers, we’ll explain exactly what a college recommendation letter is. We will also cover how to request a recommendation letter for college. And, we will present an example of what a strong college recommendation letter sample looks like.
After reading this guide, hopefully you will understand the importance of the recommendation letter for college. Above all, you will want your college recommendation letter to be written by someone who knows you well. That way, your letter of recommendation for college will be the strongest it can possibly be. As you’ll see in the college recommendation letter sample that helped one student earn admission to Harvard University , a strong letter of recommendation can help you attend your dream school . But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin with the most important question: what is a letter of recommendation for college?
What is a college recommendation letter?
A college recommendation letter is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an opportunity for those who know you in an educational setting to explain to an admissions committee the ways you stand out. It also helps them highlight why you would be a good candidate for college admission.
Your recommendation letter for college admission will help admissions officers get to know you from a third party perspective. They will glean insight into you beyond your personal essay , academics , and extracurricular achievements . It will help admissions officers understand: What are you like in the classroom? How do you lead your peers? What qualities do you have that would make you a great fit for the university you want to attend? A good recommendation letter for college will answer these questions and more.
Later in this guide, you’ll see a sample college recommendation letter that will demonstrate this. The college recommendation letter sample will show you first hand the type of content your teachers will be writing about you. The letter in this guide is a real recommendation that helped a student earn admission to Harvard University !
These 4 steps break down how to get a great letter of recommendation for college in more depth. And, here are some more FAQs about the letter of recommendation for college admission. For now, let’s discuss why a letter of recommendation for college matters so much.
Why is a college recommendation letter important?
Not all colleges will require a letter of recommendation, but the majority do. So, it’s generally best to plan to secure them as part of your college application process. It’s impossible to weigh the role letters of recommendation play in the overall admissions process. It will vary a bit by school. However, many schools have shifted to a holistic admissions strategy as they review college applications. A holistic admissions approach means that colleges will consider all components of your college application more evenly. This includes your academics, your extracurriculars, and especially the recommendation letter for college.
According to Inside Higher Ed , more than 60% of colleges reported that the counselor recommendation had at least ‘moderate importance’ in admissions decisions. The article explores the fairness and validity of letters of recommendation. However, one thing is for certain: they will continue to be used in the application process.
So, it is worth understanding how to secure strong college recommendation letters. Due to COVID-19 , standardized testing has taken a back seat and some high schools are resorting to pass/fail grades. Therefore, letters of recommendation may matter even more in the admissions process, especially at more selective schools.
Let’s take a look at the times when a letter of recommendation for college admission can play an even more important role in college admission decisions.
When might a letter of recommendation for college matter most?
A few scenarios can play out where your letter of recommendation for college could be a deciding factor in an admission decision. Firstly, at highly selective schools , where each component of the application process counts, this may very well be the case. Let’s say for instance the admissions committee is deciding between two candidates. Both applicants have similar profiles in terms of academic interests, extracurricular involvement, test scores (if applicable), GPA, and curriculum. A strong letter of recommendation for college admission just may be the deciding factor.
In a second scenario, let’s take a less selective school with a truly holistic admissions process. A candidate might seem like an average student, but a strong letter of recommendation for college might show admissions how the student excels beyond grades. A strong letter of recommendation might motivate an admissions officer to take a chance on that candidate.
The deciding factor
Lastly, a common scenario at selective schools is one in which a candidate may be on the cusp. Academically, they aren’t strong enough for a definite offer of admission, so the decision can go either way. That’s when a recommendation letter for college or a personal essay can really make all the difference. A strong combination of the two can provide that boost admissions officers need to settle on a decision to admit.
At the end of the day, while a required recommendation letter for college isn’t the end-all be-all in the college application process, these letters can play an important role in the final decision. They are a third-party testament to your ability to excel. This insight can be an important addition to your college application packet. As such, it’s best to ensure your letters are as strong as possible. You’ll see an example of that in our college recommendation letter sample.
Asking for a recommendation letter for college: Things to know
Now that we’ve explained the basics of the letter of recommendation for college admission, let’s get into some more detail. We’ll even look at a sample college recommendation letter later on to give you a clear idea of what these letters look like!
Check out this step-by-step guide to the process, and keep reading to see our college recommendation letter sample later in this guide.
Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation for college?
This is probably the most important question you will ask yourself as you begin to think about your college recommendation letters. Deciding who should write your letter of recommendation for college admission requires careful consideration. It sounds a bit transactional, but you should take inventory of your teachers early in your junior year . The college application process requires planning , so you need to assess every step of the way. Be intentional about building strong relationships with your teachers with your letter of recommendation for college in mind.
Do you already know what particular school, major, or program you will be applying to? If so, you will certainly want to ask a teacher in the appropriate subject. If two letters are required, we suggest one letter of recommendation for college from a math or science teacher and another recommendation letter for college from a humanities teacher. Our college recommendation letter sample below is from a math teacher, so the best contrasting letter would be an English or history teacher.
Junior-year teachers are best
Junior year teachers are ideal candidates to write your letter of recommendation for college admission. This is because they are the last ones to have taught you for a full year before the application process, and your classes are more rigorous. If you are lucky enough to have a junior year teacher that you had in previous years, that could certainly be an advantage. Either way, make sure to forge relationships with your teachers throughout your junior year. Let them know your interests, go to see them during their office hours, and be an active participant in class discussions.
Do you have the opportunity to work with one of your teachers outside of your class? Perhaps your history teacher advises the Yearbook committee, or your calculus teacher advises the Black Student Association. It’s a good idea to join the clubs your teachers advise so they can get to know you better outside of the classroom. Of course, these should be activities that you’re genuinely interested in.
In addition to the teachers you will ask for a letter, your school counselor will also submit a letter of recommendation for college. This letter of recommendation for college admission will typically provide an overview of your years as a high school student. It will discuss your academics, extracurricular involvement and impact, as well as your personal traits and growth throughout the years. For that reason, even if you do work with an outside advisor (such as one of CollegeAdvisor.com’s Advisors ), it is also important to form a relationship with your school-assigned counselor.
Your counselor’s recommendation letter for college can help fill in gaps in your application story by providing contextual information. For example, if your GPA suffered your sophomore year due to your parents’/guardians’ divorce or separation, or a death in the family, your counselor can include that information. For some information, such as medical conditions, your counselor will require written consent to include said information in your letter of recommendation for college.
Some colleges and universities will allow you to submit a supplemental letter of recommendation for college admission. The amount will vary by school, but one is typically enough.
This letter could come from:
- Religious mentors
- Community leaders
- Research advisors
- Band teachers
You will want the person writing your supplemental recommendation letter for college to provide a unique perspective different from your other letters. A word of caution: be sure to check the individual college’s policy on the submission of a supplemental letter of recommendation for college admission. Not all schools welcome them, so do not have an additional letter of recommendation for college sent if they specify that it is not wanted.
Keep reading to see a favorite college recommendation letter sample of ours!
How to ask for a letter of recommendation for college?
You should try to ask for a college recommendation letter face-to-face rather than over email. If possible, ask your potential recommenders in person or ask to set up a meeting online. Understand that your teachers can decline your request to have them write a letter of recommendation for college. However, teachers know about the process of writing a recommendation letter for college and will be open to writing one for you.
One important thing to do ahead of time when asking for a college recommendation letter is to prepare a resume and a list of key extracurricular activities and awards to give your potential recommenders. This will make their job much easier! They’ll know exactly what they should be highlighting as they write your letter. As you’ll see below in our sample Harvard recommendation letter, the student’s recommender lists her extracurriculars in the letter. This helps paint a more well-rounded picture of the student for admissions officers.
Verify in the portal
Once you’ve confirmed who your recommenders will be, you will need to verify them through your application portal. For example, on the Common App, you invite the recommender to write you a letter by putting their email into the recommendation section of the application. The recommenders will receive a notification and be able to upload their letter of recommendation for college admission directly to the application portal.
Looking for more information on how to ask for a letter of recommendation for college admission? Check out this article. And, keep reading to see us analyze a strong college recommendation letter sample.
When should I ask for a college recommendation letter?
We cannot stress enough the importance of respecting your teachers’ time when asking for a letter of recommendation for college admission. While you should ask four weeks in advance at minimum , we advise asking in May or June before the end of the school year . Many teachers will use their free time during the summer to write college recommendation letters, so the earlier the better.
You don’t want to be the student asking your teachers for a letter of recommendation for college admission just days before the application deadline; your teachers have enough to juggle. Ask your teachers in person if possible, and understand that they can decline.
What is the deadline for teachers to submit college recommendation letters?
If you are applying to schools with a November deadline, your teachers and counselor will generally submit your letters by then. Likewise for applications with a January deadline.
A letter of recommendation for college admission can generally come in after the deadline , within reason. Sometimes your college counselor will continue to submit information on your behalf throughout the cycle if necessary. What matters is that your application is submitted by the deadline. For schools with rolling admissions, your application will not be reviewed until it is complete.
What can I do as a sophomore/junior to ensure a good college recommendation letter?
The best thing to do to ensure a good letter of recommendation is to form relationships with your teachers. You can accomplish this by coming to class prepared so that you can answer questions and also ask questions. That said, you will want to make sure you consistently complete your homework and class assignments on time.
You can set yourself apart by contributing to class discussions, respecting your peers, and getting along with your teachers. You can also show leadership by volunteering to help out in class and take the lead on group projects. You’ll want to identify teachers you trust and can ask for help in order to build relationships with your teachers. Additionally, you’ll also want to get to know your teachers and allow them to get to know you. In fact, you’ll see in our college recommendation letter sample how one student set herself apart for all four years of high school.
For more information on how to get a great recommendation letter for college, check out this article .
Letter of Recommendation for College: Form and Function
Now, we’ll go into detail about what the college recommendation letter should look like, what it should contain, and how many letters you should aim for. Keep reading for our analysis of a college recommendation letter sample as well.
How long should a college recommendation letter be?
The standard length of a college letter of recommendation is one page. Some teachers may write a bit more or a bit less in a letter of recommendation for college. But expect approximately a page worth of content. Below, you’ll see our sample college recommendation letter is one full page, single-spaced.
What should a college recommendation letter include?
A strong recommendation letter for college will provide key details that are not obvious from the rest of your application. In fact, you will see exactly what we mean below in the college recommendation letter sample. While you may have a strong academic profile, a letter of recommendation for college admission can provide contextual information. Information such as: your journey in that particular class; insight into how you think; how you treat your classmates; your relationship with your teacher; and how you contribute to the class. That’s information that a simple letter grade cannot provide.
Thinking beyond the “A”
And speaking of grades, you don’t have to ask teachers whose classes you earned an A in to write your letters. Sometimes the strongest letters can come from teachers whose class you didn’t ace — that’s not always the end result of hard work, after all. A strong letter can attest to the commitment you made to do well. You might have met the teacher outside of class, seen a tutor, or asked for additional resources to better grasp the material. What admissions committee wouldn’t appreciate a teacher speaking to your resilience and work ethic? Admissions officers aren’t looking for perfection, but they are looking to form the ideal class of students who can thrive academically.
Wondering about writing a recommendation letter for college from the teacher’s perspective? Check out this guide from MIT about what they like in a letter. Looking to read a college recommendation letter sample? We’ll be analyzing a very strong sample college recommendation letter below!
Who should my teachers address the college recommendation letters to?
Each letter of recommendation for college admission can simply be addressed “To whom it may concern,” as they are not written for specific colleges. Or, see our college recommendation letter sample for how to start a letter.
How many letters of recommendation for college?
Usually, you will need two letters of recommendation. We suggest you get one recommendation letter for college from a STEM teacher, and one recommendation letter for college from a humanities or social sciences teacher. This helps to show colleges that you are a well-rounded student.
However, if you are applying for a specific program or major , for example any very competitive engineering programs, you may want to instead get a college recommendation letter from both a math teacher and a science teacher. Our college recommendation letter sample is from a math teacher, so if that student were applying for engineering, she may want to get a second college recommendation letter from a science teacher.
Some colleges allow you to submit more than two recommendation letters. It may be helpful to check out schools on your college list ahead of time so you know whether to ask for a third recommendation letter for college.
Supplemental letter of recommendation for Harvard
For example, our sample letter below is a Harvard recommendation letter. Although you only need two Harvard recommendation letters, the college will accept a supplemental Harvard recommendation letter. A third Harvard recommendation letter can help the admissions committee to see an additional part of your background or personality. You can touch on things not already covered in your application or first two Harvard recommendation letters.
However, do not think that every additional Harvard recommendation letter that you send will subsequently increase your chances of admission. In fact, sending too many additional Harvard recommendation letters may make the admissions office wary of accepting you. Knowing when enough is enough is key.
Now, let’s check out a sample college recommendation letter. This college recommendation letter sample will provide you with a concrete example of what these letters should look like. And, it helped Jennifer gain acceptance into Harvard!
College Recommendation Letter Sample
The moment you’ve been waiting for: a real college recommendation letter sample. Below, we’ll discuss what makes this a strong college recommendation letter sample, and how you can get a similarly strong college recommendation letter. This sample letter is actually a real Harvard recommendation letter that helped one student gain admissions Harvard University.
The above college recommendation letter sample is a strong example of a good college recommendation letter. We can break this Harvard recommendation letter down into three parts: the student’s academic background, specific examples of the student’s high achieving behavior, and the student’s extracurricular background. The recommender closes out the letter by offering an overall endorsement of the student. Now, let’s dive into the details of this sample college recommendation letter.
The letter provides context
This college recommendation letter sample begins by offering context for Jennifer as a student and how the recommender knows Jennifer. This demonstrates to admissions officers why the recommender is qualified to endorse Jennifer as a candidate for admissions; Jennifer was a past student in two of the recommender’s extremely challenging courses.
It highlights academic accomplishments with examples
The first paragraph of this sample college recommendation letter focuses on Jennifer’s academic accolades. She took AP Calculus freshman year of high school, then moved on to take a college level course in Multivariate Calculus as only a junior in high school.
This college recommendation letter sample also mentions Jennifer’s successes on the AP exams, not only in math courses, but in AP Computer Science and AP History as well. Finally, this college recommendation letter sample details that Jennifer has taken multiple classes at the college level. All of this is extremely impressive, and we’re only on the first paragraph of this college recommendation letter sample!
In the next paragraph of this sample college recommendation letter, the recommender discusses specifics of Jennifer’s work that were outstanding. These specific examples back up the claims made in the above paragraph: Jennifer is a unique and brilliant student.
Describes excellence outside the classroom
Finally, this college recommendation letter sample discusses Jennifer’s accomplishments outside of the classroom. This is always helpful for a recommender to mention in a letter of recommendation for college admission. It emphasizes that Jennifer is well-rounded and that her recommender took the time to get to know her outside of the classroom space. As we mentioned before, you can provide your recommender with a list of key extracurriculars and accomplishments. That way, like in this Harvard recommendation letter, your recommender can address the many facets of your high school career!
This sample college recommendation letter specifically highlights Jennifer’s success in mathematical courses. However, it also talks more broadly about Jennifer’s involvement in other courses and extracurriculars. It’s no wonder this Harvard recommendation letter helped earn Jennifer admission into the college. In fact, it really contributed depth and detail to her application. A college recommendation letter like this college recommendation letter sample would be a huge asset to an application!
College Recommendation Letters: Additional FAQs
Now that we’ve gone through a sample college recommendation letter, you should have a pretty clear idea of what a letter of recommendation for college admission looks like. Below, we’ll answer remaining questions you may have about getting a letter of recommendation for college admission.
Can a college recommendation letter be from a family member?
No. A family member cannot write a letter of recommendation for college on your behalf. You could have a mentor or a boss write a recommendation letter for college, but they should not be related to you.
Will I be able to read my college recommendation letter?
Your teachers will typically submit your letter of recommendation for college admission to your school counselor. From there, it gets uploaded to the platform your school uses such as Naviance or MaiaLearning, from which your counselor will submit your supporting documents to the colleges you’ve selected.
Typically, students must sign a FERPA waiver when they request their letters of recommendation for college. This agreement states that you waive the right to view your recommendation letter for college admission.
How do I know if my college recommendation letter is good?
The quality of a recommendation letter for college can vary depending on the teacher writing it. Not all teachers are wordsmiths, and that’s ok. What matters most is the content, which is why it’s important to forge those teacher connections and choose recommenders who know you and your abilities best. If a teacher feels that they would not be the best person to write a solid recommendation on your behalf, they may decline your offer.
Letter of Recommendation for College- Final Thoughts
We hope this guide has provided a comprehensive explanation of the college recommendation letter process. We hope you also gained a better sense of what a strong college recommendation letter sample looks like. Remember that not all letters of recommendation will be exactly like the above college recommendation letter sample. So, you shouldn’t compare your successes to the student in the college recommendation letter sample. You are you , and that’s the greatest advantage in the college admissions process! Find recommenders who understand you, and be sure to ask for a college recommendation letter far before the deadline. Be prepared to provide recommenders with a list of extracurriculars, as the student in our college recommendation letter sample did. Your personal essay (if you’ve written it) may also be helpful for recommenders to see. Any additional information you can provide will be helpful for your teachers. Like in our college recommendation letter sample, you want to seem a well-rounded, unique, and hard working student.
For more information on the college recommendation letter process, check out this Common App article. Good luck!
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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for College
Admissions experts offer advice on how to get the strongest recommendations from the best sources.
How to Get a Letter of Recommendation
Obtaining high-quality letters of recommendation takes time and planning. (Getty Images)
Letters of recommendation from teachers, school counselors and other sources can help college admissions officers get a more complete picture of applicants.
They give admissions offices a "third dimension" as to who students are as individuals, says Peter Wilson, deputy dean and executive director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Chicago .
"They tell us what a student is like and how they perform in their classroom and overall community," Wilson says. "They tell us how a student would interact with their peers, so they’re giving us a sense of, when you come to our campus, how are you going to interact with our faculty and what are you going to be like in a classroom setting?"
While just one part of the college application process, it's an important one, experts say. These letters play a bigger role than many students might think, says Richard Tench, a school counselor at St. Albans High School in West Virginia.
"This really paints the bigger picture," he says. "When admissions looks at files, everyone’s going to have a transcript. Everyone is going to have extracurriculars. But those only speak so far. I think those personal stories and those stories of perseverance or their true passion that come out in the letters are what set (some applicants) apart."
Obtaining high-quality letters of recommendation usually doesn't happen overnight – it takes time and planning. Understanding the role that recommendation letters play in the application process can help students plan properly and avoid common pitfalls, experts say.
Here's what high school students need to know about how to ask for letters of recommendation for college applications .
Whom Should I Ask to Write Letters of Recommendation?
Admissions officers generally want to see letters of recommendation from high school teachers and counselors. But some colleges have more specific requirements than others. For example, the University of Chicago requires two letters of recommendation from teachers in "academic subjects," which include: "mathematics, social studies, history, science, English or literature, foreign language, and other courses in which you are doing substantial amounts of reading, writing, or class discussion," according to the school's admissions website .
Generally, students can include letters from elective teachers if that teacher and class are aligned with what they plan to major in, says Colleen Paparella, founder of DC College Counseling. For example, a student planning to major in vocal performance might seek a letter from the choir teacher, or a student planning to study art might seek a letter from the art teacher.
A college's website will usually spell out the exact requirements for letters of recommendation.
When it comes to letters of recommendation from teachers, students should approach the instructors with whom they have the best relationships, experts say. Ideally, this is someone who knows them well and can speak to both their academic and personal strengths.
It's important that students consider the context in which the recommender knows them, says Geoff Heckman, a school counselor at Platte County High School in Missouri.
“For instance, if you’re asking me as a school counselor to write a letter for you, it’s probably going to be about your academic promise, your integrity in the school, those pieces," he says. "But if you’re asking somebody like an employer, they’re probably going to be writing it from the perspective of your work ethic."
Students should also make sure they're asking recent teachers for recommendations, meaning those who taught them during the second half of high school. Typically, colleges are looking for recommendations from 11th grade teachers because they've most recently been with the student for a full academic year before applying, experts say.
"By the time an admissions officer reads the letter it’s going to be midway through 12th grade, and the teacher from 9th and 10th grade is going to seem really far away and it’s going to be a red flag," Paparella says. "It’s going to look like they didn’t have somebody more recent to ask."
A student with a part-time job may consider asking his or her manager for a recommendation, and athletes may think about asking their coaches, Goodman says. Such recommenders may be able to discuss some of a student's strengths that aren't as evident in a classroom setting.
How Should I Ask for Letters of Recommendation?
Students should generally ask teachers and counselors for letters of recommendation in person, Paparella says.
That may be more difficult in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as digital communication has been prioritized and the dynamic of teacher-student relationships has changed, says Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant and admissions strategist in the District of Columbia.
"Many students don't have relationships that they had in previous years because they didn't have ability to develop those relationships," Goodman says.
Students shouldn't panic if they aren't as close with their teachers as their siblings were, he says, noting that the effects of the pandemic on communication and relationships with teachers are still being felt.
At some high schools, students can request counselor recommendations online. And "many faculty members are very happy to schedule a Zoom call who weren't comfortable with that before the pandemic," Goodman says. "That's helped in some ways."
When Should I Ask for Letters of Recommendation?
Students should request letters of recommendation well in advance of an application deadline. Giving teachers, counselors and others ample time to write usually results in stronger recommendations.
Heckman encourages students at his high school to ask for recommendations in late spring or early summer of their junior year . This will give teachers and counselors time to work on a recommendation before seniors inundate them with requests midway through the fall.
Once students ask a teacher or counselor to write a letter of recommendation, they should allow at least two weeks for them to complete it. That gives everyone a fair amount of time to compose a well-written letter, he says.
Another reason not to procrastinate: Some teachers will commit to writing only a certain number of recommendations each year. Students who wait too long to ask may encounter teachers who have already hit their limit.
“Earlier is always better in the college process," says Eric Sherman, a premier college counselor for IvyWise, an educational consulting company. Another result of procrastination, he says, is that letters tend to be more general or shorter because teachers don't have as much time to be thoughtful.
"That’s not necessarily a red flag, but it can raise an eyebrow with admissions offices," he says. "It will essentially not hurt a student, but it might not help them in a way that it could have."
What Makes a Good Recommendation Letter?
Even if students have strong, years-long relationships with their teachers, experts say it's important not to assume they'll know what to include in the recommendation. Teachers are likely writing letters for other students as well, so preparing a list of things to write about will aid the recommender's memory and their writing process.
Sherman says students should supply information about a project or an assignment that was particularly impactful or important to them so that the recommender can address that.
Doing this can be the difference between a good letter and a bad letter, Paparella says.
Successful recommendation letters are descriptive, personal and are complementary to the application, not redundant, Sherman says.
Students should welcome the opportunity to list all of their accomplishments and qualities for the recommender, Heckman says.
"Really go over and above in talking about all of those characteristics that you possess," he says. "If you’re willing to say, ‘Hey, I think this is something that’s great,’ and I think it is, too, then together we can write a great letter.”
High schools may have a system to help with this process. Some counseling offices, for instance, ask students to complete a questionnaire to request a letter of recommendation. Heckman says students at his school fill out a Google form that gives recommenders direction on their letters.
“There are times when students want certain areas highlighted about them that you may not be as familiar with," Heckman says. "At times it’s necessary to know everything that a student is involved with so that you’re not only writing about what you know about that student, but also the other things that they want given attention to as well."
How Many Letters of Recommendation for College Do I Need?
The number of recommendations you will need depends on which colleges you are applying to, so check admissions requirements online.
Paparella says students should obtain two letters, regardless of whether the schools they're applying to ask for them. If students decide later during their senior year to apply to a school that requires them, already having those letters in hand can be crucial, she says.
"It’s better to have them and not need them than to scramble at the last minute to get one," she says.
In addition to what's required, some colleges give applicants the option to submit supplemental letters. It makes sense to ask for an additional letter if it can tell the admissions committee something new about a student, Goodman says.
But admissions officers aren't necessarily going to be impressed by a higher number of recommendations, nor will they likely have time to read them all, Paparella says. Students should include the letters that leave admissions officers with the strongest impression of them, she says.
How Do I Submit My Letters of Recommendation?
Students generally don't submit their own letters of recommendation. Teachers, counselors and other recommenders usually send them in electronically via whichever application platform a student is using, such as the Common App .
If it's getting close to the deadline and a recommender hasn't submitted a letter yet, Goodman says students should ask if the person needs anything else to complete the recommendation. This approach is more polite than saying, "I asked you three weeks ago and you haven't done it yet and the deadlines are coming up," Goodman says.
Though it won't have a direct impact on the admissions process, Wilson says he strongly recommends students write a thank you note to anyone who writes them a recommendation letter.
“We want those types of students in our community,” he says. "I don’t think (students) realize what a big role (these letters) have in our process. When you have 40,000 applicants, teacher recommendations are one of the ways that you can stand out in the process."
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Tips for Writing a Genuine and Powerful College Recommendation Letter
Your words can make a big difference.
College admissions season is upon us. With the ever-increasing competition among college applicants, writing an effective and sincere college recommendation letter is one way high school teachers can help students stand out among the competition. Every year, I write recommendations for a dozen or so students, often to the most prestigious universities in the nation. Here are a few things I have learned along the way:
Make sure you know the student well enough to recommend them
It’s OK to ask a student to provide you with a list of accomplishments and extracurricular activities. In fact, many teachers require students to provide a quick resume before they draft the letter! You can use these details to complement more personal narratives. However, if you find that you don’t really have personal details to add, you may want to consider whether you are the right person to write that student’s recommendation.
If I feel that I don’t know a student well enough or don’t feel comfortable recommending them for some other reason, I just politely decline the request. I usually tell these students to ask a teacher who knows them better.
Open with a formal salutation
Your letter is a business letter and requires a business letter format. If possible, address the letter to the specific college or scholarship board it is for, but To Whom It May Concern and Dear Admissions Representative are both acceptable salutations if your letter is going to be used for multiple applications. Use a colon instead of a comma. When mailing a letter, make sure to print it on your school letterhead.
Paragraph 1: Introduce the student
Try opening your letter with something the person tasked with screening hundreds (possibly thousands) of recommendation letters will remember. I like to start with an amusing or poignant story that illustrates who the student is and how others perceive them.
Make sure to use the student’s full name for the first reference and then just the first name after that. My favorite strategy is to end the paragraph with a single sentence that highlights the student’s strongest characteristics, in my opinion. You’ll also want to let the college know the context of your relationship: how you know the student and how long you’ve known them.
Paragraphs 2 and 3: Write more about character, less about achievements
In the body of the letter, focus on who the student is rather than what the student has done . Between test scores, transcripts, and the dozens of questions on the application, admissions representatives have plenty of information about the applicant’s academic and extracurricular experiences.
What college reps want to know is how the student will fit into their environment. Give specific examples of how the student achieved—did they overcome obstacles or tackle any challenges to reach their goals? I usually write two short paragraphs for the body. Sometimes the first relates character to academics, and the next relates character to extracurricular activities. Other times, I use the student’s characteristics as the main focal points. Colleges are looking for how the student goes above and beyond the normal school experience.
Paragraph 4: Conclude with a direct recommendation
Conclude with a sincere statement of recommendation for the student to the college of their choice. When sending the recommendation to a single college, use the college’s name or mascot in your recommendation. If you have knowledge of the specific college, state why you think you believe the student is a good match.
For a recommendation that will be used for multiple applications, such as the Common App, leave out specific references.
Tip: I return to using the student’s full name in my final reference to them in the letter.
Wrap it up with an appropriate closing
My last statement encourages the college to contact me with any further questions. I close with B est regards , currently my favorite valediction; it is professional and simple. I also include my title and school after my typed name.
Keep your college recommendation letter under one page long—and proofread it!
The sweet spot for admissions letter length is between two-thirds and one full, single-spaced page, using Times New Roman 12-point font for printed letters or Arial 11-point font for electronically submitted letters. If your letter is too short, you risk appearing less than impressed with the applicant; if it is too long, you risk seeming insincere or boring.
Finally, remember that you are writing a recommendation to an academic institution. Your reputation and credibility as an educator rest with your letter. While proofreading, check for active voice, proper grammar, and a formal yet warm tone. ( Consider using Grammarly! ) If you are unsure of the content or conventions you’ve used in your letter, ask another teacher who knows the student to read your letter and provide additional insight.
Good luck to you and your students this college admissions season! May the pride you have for your students resonate in your recommendation letters for them, and may they get into their reach college.
Want to see some great college recommendation letter examples? Check out these letters written by real teachers .
Plus, check out our free college admissions timeline poster..
I teach upper level high school and freshman college English. I have three sons: a high school drum major, an elementary Angry Birds fan, and a preschool Star Wars lover. I love to read when I have the chance, am always trying to get fit, and love cookies.
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Tips for Writing a Genuine and Powerful College Recommendation Letter · Make sure you know the student well enough to recommend them · Open with a