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Counselor Resources

Tips for Writing an Effective Letter of Recommendation

No Comments 15 November 2016

Your students have started applying to colleges, and letter of recommendation are a vital part of this process. As their counselor, it is your role to help guide them through each step. Due to this working relationship, some of your students may ask you to write a letter of recommendation for their college and scholarship applications. Here are some tips for writing your students an effective college recommendation letter.

Know your own qualifications. If a student asks you to write him or her a letter of recommendation, make sure you are the right person for the job. Meet with the student to discuss their academic and career goals, along with their choice of college, and their extracurricular activities. Ask for a copy of their accomplishments resume.

If you do not believe you can write a positive letter of recommendation, kindly tell the student that you are not the right person to write their letter. You can always direct the student to another faculty or staff member better suited for the job.

Structure your letter correctly. Once you decide to move forward with writing a letter of recommendation, structure it in the following way:

  1. Start the letter with a sentence or two of praise for the student.
  2. In your introduction, identify yourself and describe your relationship with the student – how do you know the student and for how long.
  3. The next paragraph should discuss the student’s work in the classroom or the work they have done for you. When writing about the student’s work, be detailed and specific without relying on hyperbole. Be realistic. Admissions committees may be wary of over-the-top praise unsupported by specific evidence.
  4. The third paragraph should address the student’s characteristics, including a balanced discussion of the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Continue to include specific examples of praise, while avoiding hyperboles and clichés. Include comparisons, especially with previous students who have been admitted by the college or who have won the scholarship.
  5. Your conclusion should summarize the student’s best qualities and accomplishments. The letter should close on a positive note, repeating your recommendation for the student to be admitted to the college or win the scholarship.

A well-structured letter will improve your student’s chances for admission. Keep the letter of recommendation to one page in length, ideally, and no more than two pages. Use active voice instead of passive voice for a more powerful letter of recommendation.

Write honestly and fairly. Give an accurate portrayal of the student, while remaining positive. A negative or neutral letter may harm the student’s chances of admission. But, do not be afraid to offer criticism – just bring it back to a positive note. For example, if a student did poorly in a class one semester, discuss how they improved their study habits and narrowed their focus to bring up their grades for the next semester.

A well-written letter of recommendation may help your student get into the college of his or her dreams – don’t let this opportunity go to waste!

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