How To Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Student

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 November 2022 | Published 16 August 2021

Updated 22 November 2022

Published 16 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

High school and university students often need letters of recommendation when applying to academic or professional organisations. A well-written letter of recommendation can be a deciding factor, as it can show aspects of a student that a resume or academic record cannot. If you're a teacher or work with students who may need letters of recommendation, it's important to understand how to write one that highlights not only the student's past successes but also their future potential.

In this article, we describe the steps for writing a letter of recommendation for a student, give tips for writing an effective letter, provide a template on which you can base your own writing and present an example of a letter to guide you.

Related: What Is a Recommendation Letter From Your Employer?

How to write a letter of recommendation for a student

If you're writing a letter of recommendation for a student, the following steps can help you determine what information to include and how to structure the document:

1. Obtain information from the student

To ensure you have the information you need to write an effective recommendation letter, speak with the student and obtain the following information:

  • Their GPA

  • A list of academic achievements and extracurricular activities

  • Information about the program, university or employer to which they're applying

If the student is applying for a job, consider asking to see their resume so you can better understand their qualifications, and ask for a copy of the job description to identify how they can succeed in the role. If the recommendation is for an academic or other program, ask the student about their intentions and goals, and request to read their personal essay if one is required for application. This information can help you tailor the letter to its intended purpose.

Related: How To Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

2. Address the letter appropriately

The recipient of the letter may be a hiring manager, department head, admissions counsellor or program director. Knowing the identity of the recipient and addressing your letter accordingly can make it seem more personalised. Again, speak with the student to obtain the relevant information. Namely:

  • The full name and title of the recipient

  • The recipient's role in the application process

If the student doesn't know the identity of the intended recipient, you can address the recommendation to a general entity. For example, you could use 'Dear Hiring Manager' or 'Dear Admissions Officer.'

Related: When and How To Use the Phrase 'To Whom It May Concern'

3. Introduce yourself and state your relation to the student

In the introduction of your letter, identify who you are, specify your title and note how you're qualified to speak on the student's behalf. For example, if you're a literature teacher, you could mention how long you've served in that capacity and how you that position allowed you to encounter the student in question.

Further details about your relationship with the student would also be useful. For instance, if you're a teacher, you could mention the specific courses you taught the student. If you know the student not from class but from an extracurricular activity, you can describe the specifics of your relationship in that context. Other details you might include are:

  • Your first impressions of the student

  • How you've watched them develop over time

  • Their impact on the setting and their peers

4. Provide concrete examples of the student's qualifications

Universities and employers tend to accept candidates they believe can be assets to their organisation, so it's important to show in the body of your letter that the student can contribute positively to the employer, program or institution.

If you're writing on behalf of a high school student seeking university entrance, note specific instances that exemplify their work ethic. If the letter is for a university student seeking employment, you could describe cases in which the student was quick to learn and adapt to new things. You can also illustrate the student's potential success by discussing the contributions they made to your school and the honours they received.

Related: Resume for a High School Student: What To Include

6. Conclude your letter

You can end your letter by restating your support of the student's qualifications and offer to remain available should the reader have questions about your recommendation or the qualifications of the student. Include at least two channels of communication through which they can reach you, such as a phone number and your email address. This final step can show the company or university that you believe in the student's abilities and fully endorse them for the program or role.

Tips for writing a letter of recommendation for a student

Here are some tips to help you create an effective letter of recommendation for a student:

Understand the recipient

The requirements of the letter depend on its purpose, so try to tailor each letter to its intended recipient. For example, in a recommendation letter for an internship, you might focus on the student's ability to adapt to and handle challenges, as interns often perform diverse tasks and must respond to unexpected situations. In contrast, a letter written for admission into a master's of education program might focus on the subject's characteristics that show they're capable of excelling and then succeeding as a teacher.

Related: What Is an Internship: Everything You Need To Know

Illustrate the student's growth

If you are writing a letter of recommendation, it's likely for someone you've known awhile. This puts you in a position to describe how you've seen them grow, a characteristic that many organisations appreciate. To show growth, show the recipient how the subject today is better than they were when you first met them. For example, if the student was initially an underachiever but grew to develop an impressive work ethic, describe this arc in your letter, and imply they're capable of even greater improvement over time.

Proofread and revise

After you've completed writing your letter, it's a good idea to set it aside for a day or two and then reread it, checking for errors in spelling, grammar, mechanics, language, voice, tone and general readability. Submitting an error-free, easy-to-follow letter can improve the subject's candidacy by making the job of the hiring manager or admissions officer less challenging. It can also help if you work on improving your language to seem more original, as this can allow the student's qualifications to stand out in comparison with others' qualifications.

Template for a letter of recommendation for a student

You can adapt this template to help you write your own letter of recommendation for a student:

Dear [title and name of recipient],

[Introduce yourself by name and and title, and briefly describe the capacity in which you know the student, including how long you've known them. Explicitly express your recommendation for the student in the specified role.]

[Introduce one prominent quality of the student that you feel exemplifies their suitability for the role. Provide a concrete example that proves this quality. Write narratively to illustrate how the student implements this quality, has grown because of it and/or affects their environment with it.]

[Introduce another quality and again provide an example for support.]

[State that you feel the student can benefit the organisation they're applying to, reiterate the student's positive qualities and express that you'd be happy to answer questions about or further discuss the student. Make sure to include your contact information.]

Sincerely,
[Your name/signature]
[Your professional title]

Example of a letter of recommendation for a student

This is an example of a job candidacy recommendation:

Dear Hiring Manager,

My name is Janice Moss, professor of communications at Foothills University, and for the past four years I have had the privilege of teaching and advising Ms Maria Shin as she pursued her bachelor's of communications. When I first met Ms Shin, she was an 18-year-old who didn't know what she wanted in life. Today, however I consider her to be one of the most determined and ambitious students I have ever known, and I wholeheartedly recommend her for the role of Internal Content Writer at Edwards Media.

In her first year as a communications major at our university, Ms Shin joined our campus newspaper. It was soon clear that she was a singular writing talent. Her form was still raw, but she already had a unique voice and command of tone. By her sophomore year, her writing had improved drastically. She had actively worked to make her writing clearer and stronger. The result was that she was the winner of that year's coveted Foothills Student Journalism Award. She would win two more in her time with the paper.

In addition to her determination to improve, Ms Shin is also among the few communications majors I have known to pursue writing outside of the campus. In her university career, she succeeded in publishing articles in various national publications, including news magazines and literary journals. Ambition such as hers is rare and can be an asset to any employer who would hire her.

Again, I highly recommend Ms Maria Shin for the writing position at your organisation. I trust that your impression of this remarkable young woman is likely to compare to my own.

If you have any questions about Ms Shin or would like to discuss her attributes further, you can reach me by phone at 0400 555 555 or by email at s.almagno@foothills.edu.

Sincerely,
Janice Moss
Professor of Communications, Foothills University

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