Anatomy of Letters of Recommendation

Anatomy of Letters of Recommendation

So you have accepted a request to write a letter of recommendation, now what? Being able to write a letter of recommendation on a student's behalf allows you to have a great influence on their acceptance to their program. But never fear, there are a few LOR guidelines that can make the daunting process a lot easier.

First… The beginning of the letter should introduce who you are, your titles and qualifications, and your relation to the person you are recommending.
Helpful hints for this section: Make sure to follow the proper guidelines outlined by the program the student is applying to. For example, the LOR may need to be written on letterhead or you may need to say something specific about your relation to the person you are recommending.

Then… The middle of the letter should discuss specific things you know about the student. For example, their performance as captain of the track team you coach or their work on a specific assignment that sticks out to you. Make sure to discuss specific skills and characteristics this person has and relate them back to the program they're applying to.
Helpful hints for this section: Use clear statements that show you are sincere about your description of this student. Avoid using superfluous statements like "She's the best student I've ever had", as they don't add value to your description of the student. Additionally, while you may add activities from their resume to the letter, make sure you connect them back to specific characteristics the student has. For example, use the fact that the student started an after school tutoring program as further proof of the initiative you've witnessed the student displaying in your classroom.

Finally… End with a quick summary of the student's qualifications and why they belong in the program or school they are applying to.
Helpful hints for this section: End with a strong statement connecting everything you've said in the letter back to why this student belongs in the program or school they're applying to.

Some extra things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to be aware of basic requirements such as length and due date.
  • Watch out for spelling and grammar mistakes that can detract from your credibility.
  • Encourage the person you are recommending to waive their right to read the letter, if applicable, as it allows you to feel more free to write an honest recommendation.
  • Use specific examples of the student work or talk specifically about 1 or 2 of the student's key characteristics.
  • Everything mentioned in the letter should relate back to the student's ability to succeed in the program they are applying to, avoid simply listing all of the positive attributes the student has.
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