Writing a letter of recommendation to a student can help them get into the career or graduate program that will help them professionally grow. Knowing how to write the letter is crucial since it highlights the student’s character. Your objective is to provide honest insight into your student’s character.If you are stuck on how to frame the letter, consider the following elements. Utilize the example at the bottom and customize it as needed.
Table of Contents
Structure The Email
Planning and Purpose
Start by asking your student for information on the following:
- Their GPA
- Extracurricular activities (including volunteer services)
- The program, university, or job position that they are applying to
- Their resume (if they are applying for a job)
- Their personal essay (if they are applying to a university program)
You might also want to ask the student why they are applying and what their objective outcome is for this program or position. The more that you know, the better you should be able to pen an insightful letter to their potential employer or program director. If your student’s goals and objectives seem unclear, spend time speaking with them about it and help them outline what it is they want to achieve.
Your letter should start out with a subject line addressing the reader. Mention who you are writing the letter on behalf of and the position or program to which the student is applying. This lets the recipient know exactly who you are vouching for and which program or position for which they are being considered.
If you are too vague with your subject sentence, the reader might become confused as to why you are writing them. One clear, concise statement frames the entire purpose of the letter.
You need to introduce yourself from the get-go. Give the reader your full name and title or position you hold with your college or university. You should try to answer the following questions in your introduction:
- Was this individual a student in a class or seminar?
- Were they a teaching assistant or graduate assistant?
- Is this student someone you supervised in a working situation?
- How have you and this student maintained your acquaintance over the years? (Provide the number of years too.)
When writing a physical letter or Word document, make sure that you use your company’s or school’s professional letterhead. This will ensure the recipient that you are legitimate.
You can also take this opportunity to mention your student’s skill sets and ambitions, but you will want to expand upon this in another paragraph. You can even write a brief e-mail introduction to initiate the recipient into reading the letter itself. (See our example template for some inspiration.)
The real ‘meat’ of a recommendation letter is the content section. Here is where you need to highlight the student’s character and achievements. What are some of their professional qualities that make them a good fit for a position or program? How is their in-classroom performance something that makes them stand out? How well do they follow through on their responsibilities?
You will also want to speak to your student’s intelligence. This does not just mean their IQ or their GPA. Instead, you want to illustrate your student’s overall intelligence. Consider the different types of intelligence. Which of these does your student embody? What instances can you think of that best show this?
Wrap things up by letting the recipient know how to contact you. Provide your office phone number and professional email address. Let the recipient know that you are available to offer further insight into your student’s personal and professional qualities but keep it simple.
Do’s and Dont’s
- Avoid using a lot of superlatives, cliches, and stock phrases
- Only utilize known information about the student’s academic and/or professional career
- Present the student in a positive but realistic manner
- Utilize proper grammar and spelling throughout the letter
- Re-read and edit the letter at least once before sending it
- Use an incorrect spelling of the student’s name
- Use a copy-and-pasted version of the same letter for a different student
- Use the student’s nickname without first using their legal name
- Insert overly-enthusiastic endorsements or use inaccurate information about the student
- Focus on the writer over the student whose skills you are trying to highlight
- Use profanity or suggestive language
- Allow grammar or spelling mistakes to remain in the final draft
Take this recommendation letter to the next level by following the guidelines set forth in this article. Get things started by writing a brief e-mail to the recipient, introducing yourself, your student, and the purpose of the actual letter you will be attaching as a file they can open and read. Utilize the example e-mail template down below to initiate contact.
It is my pleasure to recommend [Student’s Name] for [Position] at [Company Name].
My name is [Your Name], and I am a professor of [Subject] at [Institution’s Name]. I have [Number] of years’ experience working as a [Profession/Skill] and have seen numerous young professionals come and go through my classroom. [Student’s Name] is one of the most promising students I have had the pleasure of teaching.
[Student] and I have known each other for [Number] of years, and in that time, I have seen [Student] grow exponentially. Their particular skill sets are [list skills here]. [Include an example of a time your student showed true excellence or overcame a challenge here.]
There are other things that impress me about [Student]. [Speak to your student’s personality, motivation, and goals here.]
Should you require more information, please contact me at [phone number] or by email at [email]. Since a letter of recommendation is a brief glimpse into [Student]’s potential and experience, I would be happy to further elaborate.
All the best,