26 October, 2020
By Mike Simpson
If you are a teacher or mentor a young person, there’s a chance that you’ll be asked to do something important: write a letter of recommendation for a student. But if even if you think the student is amazing, if you’ve never created one of these letters before, the idea may be daunting.
Figuring out how to write a letter of recommendation for a student isn’t always easy. After all, you’re essentially vouching for a student’s capabilities, and what you say may determine whether they get into a particular college or land a job.
No pressure, right?
Luckily, writing a letter of recommendation for a student doesn’t have to be a challenge. If you want to make sure you can craft something stellar, here’s what you need to know.
What Is a Letter of Recommendation?
Now, before we talk about how to write a letter of recommendation for a student, let’s take a step back and discuss what this letter is and why they are important.
We’ve previously discussed letters of recommendation in-depth, but here is a quick overview. A letter of recommendation for a student is a document where you share your thoughts about a student’s character and capabilities. Usually, you’ll use examples to highlight what they bring to the table, focusing on those that show why the student would be a great addition to a college or company.
When it comes to getting into college, adding a recommendation letter for a student is a normal part of the process. So much so that the Common App – a standard application accepted by over 900 schools – makes sure that students can submit them with ease.
However, they can also be used in other ways. Scholarship applications may ask for one, for example. With those, the approach is usually similar to the one you’d use to write a letter to a college admissions committee. Along with highlighting a student’s academic success, you can share insights about their personality traits. You could also discuss their volunteer work, community involvement, work experience, or anything else that may be relevant to a scholarship committee, depending on what the award is all about.
If a student wants to land an internship or first job, a letter of recommendation may be required when they apply or could be used to separate them from other candidates. Here, you may focus on their willingness to learn, the quality of their work, their passion for the field, or anything else that aligns with the nature of the role.
In many ways, letters of recommendation are like referrals. You’re saying that you believe in the student’s capabilities to the point that you’re willing to speak up for them. That’s a really big deal.
Common Mistakes When Writing a Letter of Recommendation for a Student, And How to Avoid Them
Many people make mistakes when writing a letter of recommendation for a student. Often, it’s simply because they don’t realize what the potential missteps are, so they don’t know to avoid them.
Certain mistakes are fairly common. Luckily, by learning about them, you won’t fall victim to them.
First, being too general is a problem. A recommendation doesn’t carry much weight if it doesn’t feature a few clear examples of why the student is amazing. You need to be specific.
Plus, anecdotes keep your letter from being boring or blending in with the sea of others the recipient is probably reading. Having stellar stories to share that really highlight what the student brings to the table makes your letter memorable. And that’s crucial for highly competitive college programs, internships, scholarships, and jobs.
Second, too many teachers and mentors forget to introduce themselves to the letter recipient. It’s important that they know who you are, how you know the student, and why your opinion should matter to them.
Don’t get us wrong. This doesn’t mean you should spend a lot of time bragging. Instead, just that you need to give them enough information to establish yourself as a valid source of information. Make covering those bases a priority.
Additionally, resist the urge to exaggerate. While some students are incredible, don’t inflate their capabilities or accomplishments. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t focus on the positive. Just make sure to be honest about what they bring to the table.
Finally, above all else, watch out for spelling, grammar, and other mistakes. The quality of your writing will reflect on the student, so errors can do real harm. So, don’t skip out on proofreading, whatever you do.
How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Student (Step-By-Step)
1. Request Information
Before you worry about how to write a letter of recommendation for a student, you need to gather some information. Ask the student for an overview of the college program they want to join or the job they’re trying to land. That way, you can highlight relevant examples and tailor the letter to the situation.
2. Start Strong
When you write a letter of recommendation for a student, it’s best to start strong. Let the recipient know immediately that vouching for this student is a pleasure and that you recommend them for the job or academic program.
Usually, you can do this in a single sentence. Let that sentence stand alone, ensuring it is impossible to miss.
3. Introduce Yourself
After you’ve shouted from the mountain tops that you are behind this student completely, introduce yourself in the next. Let them know who you are and how you know the student, keeping this part concise and focused.
4. Give an Overview of Why You’re Recommending Them
In the next paragraph, it’s time for a summary. You want to give them a quick overview of why this student is amazing. You can touch on a whole slew of skills and traits that are relevant to the student’s goals.
5. Share an Anecdote
After you’ve touched on the student’s capabilities, it’s time to back up those claims with an example or two. Make sure to highlight anecdotes that are highly relevant and get to the point quickly. That way, you can make sure the letter is effective without it becoming a novel.
Usually, you’ll spend one to two paragraphs discussing examples. If you find yourself going beyond that, you may want to scale back.
6. Leave the Door Open
In your closing paragraph, invite the recipient of the letter to reach out. Provide your contact information and let them know you’re available to answer questions or discuss the student further.
You can also add that you understand you’re only providing a glimpse into what the student brings to the table and that you’d enjoy a chance to continue singing the student’s praises.
7. Sign Off
After the closing, sign off. Include your name, job title, company or school name, and email address or phone number, at a minimum.
If you’d like, you can include a link to your LinkedIn profile. That can give the recipient a place to learn more about your credentials if they so choose. Just make sure that, if you do, your profile is a shining example of your expertise and great reputation.
8. Review and Edit
Since grammar, spelling, and other errors can actually hurt the student’s application, take a moment to give it a thorough once over. Look for mistakes. Make use of language tools.
If you want to go the extra mile, dump the letter into a text-to-speech app. Sometimes, hearing it said makes mistakes more apparent, allowing you to catch errors you overlooked.
9. Deliver the Letter
How you need to deliver the letter can vary. In some cases, you may need to give it to the student as a printed document or email attachment. At times, you might have to hand it over in a sealed envelope. In other situations, sending it straight to the school or uploading it through an online portal might be necessary.
Review any delivery instructions the student provided. If you didn’t get any instructions, reach out. That way, you can make sure it’s handled properly.
Recommendation Letter Template
If you’re looking for a sample letter of recommendation for a student who’s trying to get into college, you’re in luck. You can use this example as a functional template, adjusting the details as needed. That way, you can personalize the letter, ensuring what’s special about the student shines through.
It could also be adjusted for students who are trying to land internships or jobs. Simply change any references to admission to reflect the position, addressing a hiring manager instead of the admissions committee, and you’re set:
Dear Admissions Committee;
I am happy to strongly recommend John Doe for admission into the Computer Science at ABC College.
My name is Dr. Jane Smith, and I’ve been John Doe’s technology instructor for three years. I have 15 years of experience in teaching in the field and have had the pleasure of working with many students during my time as the head technology instructor. Among them all, John Doe has genuinely been a standout.
John Doe is a passionate student. He adapts to challenges quickly and is always interested in learning about emerging technologies and techniques. Not only has he spent time learning various programming languages on his own, but he’s spent time exploring a range of operating systems, including those designed for desktops and mobile devices.
When I first met John Doe, his enthusiasm for technology quickly shined through. He always asked intelligent questions and found ways to overcome obstacles on his own, researching new techniques whenever the need arose. His final project was a stellar example of his dedication and fortitude, as he created a smartphone application designed to help students excel in the classes he enjoyed. It specifically shared knowledge that he had learned along the way, both inside and outside the classroom.
However, it wasn’t just John Doe’s technical skills and passion that impressed. He also excels when it comes to teamwork, collaboration, leadership, and mentoring. His goal wasn’t just to facilitate his own learning but to ensure the success of his classmates. He frequently tutored students on his own time and guided everyone through group projects while ensuring everyone could contribute and learn.
I genuinely believe that John Doe would be an excellent addition to your program. If you’d like more information, I would be happy to share it. Please feel free to call me at 555-555-1234 or email me at [email address] anytime.
Putting It All Together
Ultimately, with all of the tips above – and the helpful sample – you should have a solid starting point on how to write a letter of recommendation for a student. Just remember to focus on their relevant achievements and offer up clear examples. That way, the recipient of the letter will know exactly what that student is a standout, which should be your primary goal.
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