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A Guide for Writing Recommendation Letters

Updated: May 22, 2020

Hint: If you're an applicant, this is a good resource to share with your recommenders.

You may be here because someone (a student, former employee, co-worker) asked you to write a recommendation letter on their behalf. Here are some tips that may be helpful for you:

  • Take a moment to think before saying yes - Writing a recommendation letter is a responsibility. Before saying yes, you should think about whether or not you actually want to advocate for this person and whether you have the time and bandwidth to deliver on your promise. Ask yourself: Do I have enough bandwidth? Can I actually speak to this candidate?

  • Ask for information and materials - You should feel free to ask the candidate to send you some materials to help you as you write the letter. For example, you can ask about the following: resume, personal statement, description of what you worked on together, description of the program/scholarship they are applying for, and their future career goals. This information will help you write a more compelling and personalized letter.

  • Make it personalized and targeted - We cannot emphasize this point enough. Make sure your recommendation letter is personalized to the candidate. If you want to advocate for a candidate and support them, do not use a generic template. Make sure you mention how you’ve come to know the candidate, how long have you known them for, and use specific examples that shed light on the candidate's unique experiences, accomplishments, and strength.

Anatomy of a good letter of recommendation

[University/Employer letterhead]

[sender’s name]

[sender’s departmental address—if not printed on letterhead]

[sender’s institutional email address]

[today’s date]

[recipient’s name]

[recipient’s institutional address]

To Whom it May Concern:

  • Introduction to the letter

It is my pleasure to recommend X for admission to [name of program] at [name of university]

How do/did you know the student?

I have come to know Mr/Ms. X through my work [teaching] as ……… If you know the student through the course, make sure to explain what the course is/was. If you knew them through a project/internship, make sure to explain what was the project, how long did it last, how competitive it is to get in!

  • The body of the letter

What is your initial impression of the student?

1- Curiosity

2- Work ethics

3- leadership and team skills

4- communication skills

What did the student specifically contribute to the project/internship?

Did the student live up to this impression by the time the project/course ended?

How do you rate the student compared to his peers/ those you worked/taught before?

If you can provide numbers/ranking that would be helpful for the committee

  • The ending of the letter

X is an exceptional candidate for college/graduate program. I would therefore highly recommend X. If his/her performance in my [class/team or project] is a good indication of how he/she would perform as a student, he/she would be an extremely positive asset to your program.

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