What to do when a student asks for a letter of recommendation
Students who are applying to US or UK universities are required to submit between one and three letters of recommendation. The purpose of such letters is to tell application committees why a student is worthy of admission to a particular college.
If you have not written many of these letters before, you may have some questions regarding what to write, when to write it, and how to format your letter. In this post, we are going to walk you through the three most important features of recommendation letters, and what kinds of things to mention in each part.
Length and tone
Recommendation letters should be a similar length to a cover letter for a job: no more than a page. While you can easily upload or send in more, admissions committees have to review thousands of these letters each year.
Finally, keep the tone formal, concise, and descriptive.
(It should now be noted that if you do not feel you can write a positive or sufficient recommendation for a student who asks, try and guide them to someone who can.)
The introductory paragraph of a reference letter is perhaps the most straightforward part. In the introduction, you need to do two things:
Briefly introduce yourself and your relationship to the student. This part need not be longer than a sentence or two. Mentioning how long you have known the student will boost the impact of this section as well.
Quickly mention that you are recommending them for admission and why you are doing so.
To keep the letter brief, save the bigger details for the body and the wrap-up paragraph.
Ideally, you will want to write no more than two body paragraphs between your introduction and the closing paragraph. For the body of your reference letter, talk about who they are as a person. Are they gifted academically? Do they express enthusiasm in class? What is something unique that you have noticed about them?
Talking about something specific they did with or for you is ideal body paragraph material as well. Perhaps they were involved in a club which you coached. Maybe it was a project for one of your classes. Whichever the case, try to describe a specific instance in which they showed perseverance and creativity
In your final paragraph, re-emphasize your enthusiasm for recommending the student, ending with a somewhat formal closing. As this section is your last chance to impact this student’s future, feel free to save your most descriptive praise for now. Ultimately, this paragraph is one of the last things the admissions committee will see about the student you are writing for. Make this section memorable.
If you feel that you need some assistance from the student for whom you are writing, ask them for a resume or a brief list of their accomplishments.