How To Write a Letter of Recommendation For College Admission

There are many other application documents that you have control over, but the truth is that you don't have much control over your recommendation letters. These are letters that will be written by someone else, and they will be valuable to the admissions office of the college you are applying to. 

Fortunately, you can do things to ensure that your recommendation letter comes out perfect for helping you guarantee a place in your dream university. This post will describe how to write a recommendation letter, what you should do, and step by step. Let's get started. 

The recommendations that accompany your application are essential and informative. An average student in the 80th percentile with truly outstanding recommendations may be preferable to an exceptional student in the 99th percentile whose teachers cannot develop more original adjectives than “hardworking” and “diligent.” 

Here are some pointers for communicating with both your school counselor and teachers when requesting a recommendation.

Tips for Communicating with your Counselor:

  • Set up a meeting (or several meetings) to introduce yourself.
  • Prepare for the meeting with a clear list of questions.
  • Complete your resume and leave it with your counselor so that he/she has this information in writing.
  • Provide your counselor with written notes about specific things that make you a unique applicant.
  • Discuss any relevant mitigating circumstances that have affected your academics.
  • Treat your counselor as if he/she is doing you a favor by going to bat for you.

Tips for Communicating with your Teachers About Recommendations: 

  • Ask at least four weeks in advance of the deadline.
  • Provide your teacher with a complete list of colleges you are applying to and the deadlines for recommendation letters.
  • Communicate the specific ways that you contributed to the class.
  • Share the topics you learned that you genuinely enjoyed in the teacher’s class. (If you did outside work that was inspired by the class, be sure to mention that.)

Part 1: The Fundamentals of a Recommendation Letter: Quick Guide for Students 

What is a Recommendation Letter?

A recommendation letter is a document highlighting a candidate's character and work ethic to help them in various applications, including college applications. 

A person who has shared experience with the candidate in a professional setting will usually write a recommendation letter. 

A recommendation letter then helps the university admissions committee have an honest overview of the candidate regarding their strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. 

Are recommendation letters important? 

Everything you submit for your college application is essential, and that includes your letter of recommendation. A recommendation letter helps in presenting your information to another person in another voice. 

In other words, a recommendation letter helps reveal your strengths, weaknesses, goals, and achievements through someone else, such as your teachers, coaches, mentors, among other people. While most people might see a recommendation letter as a punishment, letters of recommendation will play a significant role. 

Also, it is essential to note that you should not read your recommendation letter before submitting it (if your recommender didn't send it on their own). Usually, CommonApp will provide you with a waiver, which is optional, requiring you to sign and acknowledge that you didn't read the recommendation letter before submitting it. 

How Many Should You Submit? 

The number of recommendation letters will depend on the college you are applying to. That said, it is crucial that you carefully check the requirements of the college. If your college accepts CommonApp, be prepared to submit two recommendation letters. 

Never submit any additional documents during your application process if you are not asked to. This is because the college admissions committee receives a heap of applications that requires them to go through all, and submitting many unnecessary documents can do more harm than good. 

If, in any case, you choose to submit an additional recommendation letter, make sure that the content in the two recommendation letters is different and adds a positive impact to your application. If you go contrary, this will do more harm than good to your application. 

Who Should Be Your Recommender? 

Sure, it sounds so obvious, but to some applicants, this may be a daunting task. First, you need to approach those teachers whom you think will recommend you any day. These teachers probably developed a stellar relationship by consistently scoring higher grades in their subject or following their instructions to a tee. 

Do you have a course or subject you struggled with, had to work extra hard, and did your hard work pay off in the end? Teachers who walked you through these courses probably loved your hard work, and they won't mind writing you a glowing letter of recommendation. 

Maybe you want to pursue a specific career, and you have a stellar relationship with the teacher who taught you coursework related to your dream career. You can approach your teacher and ask them if they can write a recommendation letter to help you with your college application process. In most cases, they will be more than willing to help you. 

It can help submit a range of letters, though it is not necessary if your college doesn't suggest. If you are unable to narrow down your list of recommenders, you can ask your teachers to write you a recommendation letter based on different disciplines in your high school. If you were insanely good in some subjects, it would help if it was captured in your letter of recommendation. 

How and When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter 

You should never worry about choosing your recommenders too early. The chances are that your teacher will receive a ton of requests from students, which means that they will have a lot more recommendation letters to write. That said, it would be best if you start reaching out to your preferred recommenders by the end of your junior year. 

Also, you should make sure that you approach your recommenders early enough to have ample time to write you the letter. You are reaching out to your recommenders a month or two before the submission deadline would be a great idea. In some cases, your preferred recommender could be swamped. So you need to have alternatives to avoid being in dire straits. 

When reaching out, whether via email, telephone, or in person, make sure you let your recommenders know which school you will be submitting your recommendation letter and the due date. This should give him or her an overview of what to write and when to complete it so that you don't end up missing the deadline. Finally, making sure your request is in the form of a question because it's not a guarantee that your preferred recommender must write you a recommendation letter. 

How You Can Help 

In as much as you are seeking letters of recommendation from people who already know you, you should provide additional information about yourself, highlighting your goals, achievements, skills, and so on. This will help your recommenders write your letter of recommendation faster and as detailed as possible. 

The chances are that you already have a resume. It would, therefore, help if you provided your referees with a copy. Additionally, you may want to share with your preferred teacher why you chose them to write your recommendation letter, which could also help. Maybe you worked hard to attain their desired pass marks, or you probably were not afraid to lead the class during their lessons. 

It is also essential to give more details about the college you will be sending your applications to so that your recommender can better understand and write a letter of recommendation in line with what the college is known for. This will eliminate the chances of your referee writing a substandard letter of recommendation because he or she has no idea of the college you will be submitting the recommendation letter. 

It will help if you schedule a meeting with your recommender to explain some information in person. This will help clarify any conflicting information and make it clearer to your recommender. If you cannot meet in person, still, there is no need to worry. You can always clarify anything that's not clear in writing and send it out to your referee. 

Bonus Tips for Students 

Once you've established a healthy relationship with your supervisor, feel free to honor a recommendation letter. Unsurprisingly, you may be asked to draft the first part of your recommendation letter for practice purposes.  

This is a one-time opportunity you shouldn't let go of. Instead, make the best out of it. Ensure that you include all the relevant skills you intend to offer to make your recommendation letter a standout. Below is how to do so: 

  • First, prepare a draft of your recommendation letter by outlining all your strengths and skills. Select a few out of your list and include them in your letter citing your performance in each of them. Your supervisor should attest to all your accomplishments for credibility. Your letter of recommendation should have at least one achievement related to your experience with the mentor.   
  • Use the right voice. This means that letter should come out in the tone of the recommender. You'll, therefore, use the third person to refer to yourself. 
  • Your recommendation letter needs to be intense, and as such, you'll have to begin by stating its primary purpose. For instance, "It is my happiness to recommend Julianne for admission to your college. I have known Julianne for three years now, during which she served as a student as well as a teaching subordinate for my procurement course."  
  • Maximize your positive achievements and skills because that's the primary purpose of a recommendation letter, after all. Meanwhile, be precise about your abilities and experiences. Make it even more snappy by attaching comparative performances of your achievements. For example, you may say, "Out of 80 students, Julianne earned the highest grade in the procurement course," instead of general.   

Follow Up

How do you get to follow up? Having a CommonApp is a plus, especially when you want to receive updates regarding submitting your recommendation letter from your professor. If your supervisor happens to delay, please give them a call and remind them of the due date. Who knows, he or she might have forgotten for reasons best known to them. 

Say Thank You!

Unlike all the other parts of your recommendation letter, this is the most critical section. Saying a big thank you at the very end won't hurt. It indicates your sincerity towards their services. Write a short letter of gratitude because they are doing you a huge favor. And it doesn't end there. Keep them updated on the way forward because you might still need them in the future. They deserve to know your progress - whether good or bad!

Part 2: How to write a Student Recommendation Letter - Quick Guide for Recommenders

An honest recommendation goes a long way because you need to give the whole experience you have had with the candidate. That said, you must have some knowledge about the candidate. So below are things you need to consider before accepting to write any recommendation letter: 

  • Whether or not you have worked together with the candidate. 
  • Are there any relevant skills that you know about the candidate? 
  • Are there any samples of the candidate you can include? 
  • Is there any positive feedback you have regarding your candidate? 

In short, it matters a lot whether you can write a distinct recommendation letter before accepting any request to do so. If you find it difficult always to give stories about someone, it is essential to let the candidate know in advance. 

Elements of a Student Recommendation Letter

Now, there are essential elements that your recommendation letter should have. These elements include: 

  • Describe yourself and state clearly who you are, your relationship between you and the candidate, and your expertise. 
  • Give a brief overview of the candidate's accomplishments, strengths, and how these relate to the recipient. 
  • You can then give a story about your experience with the candidate, and this should be a story that directly relates to the candidate's strengths or accomplishments. 
  • Write your closing that explains why your candidate is a perfect match for the college or whatever opportunity the candidate could be applying to. 
  • Sign off with your name and contact details, so the recipient can contact you whenever they need more information. 

If your candidate didn't provide you with their resume or additional information to help you craft their recommendation letter, make sure to ask them if they can. This will help you prepare well to write a detailed letter of recommendation for them. 

That out of the way, let's cut to the chase - how to write a recommendation letter, step by step. 

1. Ask for academic information from the candidate

The first thing you need to do is ask your candidate for their academic accomplishments, whether or not they participate in extracurricular activities, and probably their GPA. Additionally, it is vital that you know which college or job they are applying to. This will make it easier for you to craft a letter in line with whatever they are using. 

If your candidate is applying for any job, you need to make sure that they provide you with their resume to have a better understanding of their accomplishments. You can also ask the candidate to give you an overview of the job description to tailor his or her recommendation letter based on the job they are applying to. 

If the candidate is applying for a college, you may want to go through the student's essay to get a glimpse of what they have included in their essay. If possible, you can always suggest changes to the candidate if the piece doesn't sound on point. And the basis of doing all these is that you don't want to recommend someone with lots of mistakes, so it's upon you to find these mistakes and make changes. 

2. Detail the letter of recommendation

Detailing the letter and tailoring it to the correct person could help a lot. So you want to write a more personalized letter and not just a random note. The chances are that the candidate already knows the person the letter will address, so ask him to let you know the name and probably any additional information about the person. 

For example, a letter of recommendation could be tailored towards an admissions counselor, a hiring manager, head of a department, among others. If the candidate does not know whom the letter will address, it is still okay to address the letter to the human resource because they are always responsible for hiring. 

In case your candidate is applying to different colleges or jobs, it is crucial to make the letter general, but do some quick research about the institutions so that your letter doesn't sound robotic. Within the letter, you can throw in a few words that illustrate that you know about the institution. 

3. Give brief information about yourself and your career

Credibility plays a vital part in a recommendation letter, and as such, you'll need to introduce yourself and briefly state your relationship with the applicant. This enhances your student's chances of securing admission to the school. 

In addition to your credibility, state your job qualification and the specific course you taught your student. If you've never had the student in your class, you may say his or her role in a particular extracurricular activity. For instance, you may have chaired a basketball team but never had the student in your Procurement class.  

4. Discuss your experiences with the student both in academics and extracurricular activities

Make your introduction a little intense by providing detailed information on how long you've known the student. You may include this information in your job title section, explaining your specific role in your student's career.  

Also, include your first impression of the student in the picture. If perhaps they had some weaknesses, how have they bypassed them? Most importantly, emphasize the positive attributes of the student in whichever field to enhance their credibility.  

5. Viable examples goes a long way when highlighting your student's qualifications

Let's face it - many companies or institutions often consider applicants with positive accomplishments. And yes, they want someone who'd actively contribute towards the school and help them enhance their culture for the better.  

Apart from academics, the admission committee will want to know some of your student's abilities in other fields, such as extracurricular activities. And because you want to prove their credibility, kindly attach certificates showing the student's accomplishments. 

6. Conclude your letter

This is the last part of your letter, and you need to give a good ending. Maybe you'd want to show your support for the candidate and endorse him or her. You should make it clear that you are available if the recipient needs more information about the candidate. 

You should include your contact details to make it easier for the recipient to reach out whenever they need more information about the student. 

Bottom Line 

Writing a good letter of recommendation goes a long way - you have to prepare yourself to produce a detailed letter that admission counselors can't help but offer you a place at your dream college. 

This post included two parts: the first part explaining everything you should know and the second part, which is everything your recommender must do. And while the second part of this guide isn't directed to you, it can still help make sure your recommender does everything right.

I wish you well with your application. 


1. Character reference sample - What is it?

It is a letter usually drafted by someone else, not necessarily your employer, to showcase your abilities and character. So the difference between a professional reference and a personal reference is that the person writing the letter is not an employee, but someone who knows a thing or two about you. 

2. What’s the length of a recommendation letter? 

First, it is essential to note that a letter of recommendation should be clear and concise. So, you don't want to write a too-long recommendation letter. One page will be enough, but something lesser than that means that the person writing it does not know you, or they don't just fully endorse you. 

3. What makes a strong letter of recommendation?

A strong recommendation letter is a letter that adds some bit of real examples by the recommender. For instance, if the recommender has worked with the candidate, the recommender can give an example of how the candidate was helpful. In cases where the recommender worked with other people, he or she can rank the candidate. 

4. What should be featured in a recommendation letter?

Your recommendation letter should include these elements - introducing the candidate, the relationship between the candidate and the recommender, your personal experience or expertise. Additionally, a recommendation letter must highlight the candidate's strengths and weaknesses. 

5. Re-using recommendation letters - Is it safe?

This is almost impossible if you are in the United States. Usually, the recommender is responsible for writing and submitting your recommendation letter to the admissions committee. This means that you may not see the letter’s content, and you cannot request to reuse the same letter.