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College Recommendation Letter Template – with Samples

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A College Recommendation Letter is an endorsement of a college applicant that is written to bolster chances for admission. Recommendation letters are brief, formal statements that should highlight positive qualities and explain why the candidate will be successful in college studies.

Though friends or family might be able to sing the applicant’s praises, the best letters are usually written by teachers or employers.

Table of Contents

What to Include

This letter should provide key details about the relationship between recommender and applicant, and highlight the applicant’s positive attributes. It should include:

  • An explanation of how the recommender came to know the applicant
  • Salient positive qualities possessed by the applicant relevant to success in college
  • Anecdotes illustrating the character and competence of the applicant

Though it is easy to write a laundry-list of positives, it is better to tell a story. Simply put, try to show rather than tell why the applicant will be a success in higher education.

Why Use a College Recommendation Letter?

Many colleges require recommendation letters from applicants. But even if recommendations are not a strict necessity, they can help to build the case for admission.

These letters matter for what they say, but they also add some default value to an application just for being included. Even if the admissions committee does not carefully read recommendation letters, they are likely to note that they were included with the application, and that the applicant in the kind of person who can drum up recommendations – a positive quality all its own.

Who to Select?

A teacher, coach, or counselor are ideal choices and should be able to state key facts about the student including being able to describe their personality traits, work habits, and skills. Furthermore, the individual chosen by the student should be someone that they have had a relationship with outside the hours of school such as part of a volunteer program, sports team, or academic club.

An advantage to this is that Colleges and Universities understand that, on top of a full curriculum, having other activities take away from schoolwork. Therefore, if it comes down to an application with a generic reference versus another with an authentic reference, the latter will most likely get the nod.

How to Write (Format)

A recommendation letter should fill an entire page (usually 400 – 500 words) and contain an introduction, two (2) body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The student should be described in a way that highlights both their academic skills and personal qualities. If the letter is written well, it will provide a complete picture of the candidate which goes beyond their grades and personal resume.

Introduction

The introduction should be anywhere from 2 to 6 sentences that, more or less, describe the relationship with the student.

Depending on the person it can be as short as:

Example #1

Dear Admissions Committee,

It is with great satisfaction that I recommend Peter to the University of Oak Lane. I had the joy of teaching and coaching Peter for the last 2 years as part of our school’s math team and I’ve watched him age into an intelligent, mature young man.

In this sample introduction the student is being recommended by the head of a noteworthy club (the “math team”) which is a stand-out recommendation.

Example #2

Dear Admissions Committee,

It is my honor to recommend Jake to Faraway College as his high school basketball coach. Over the course of the last 4 years, I have seen him develop into one of our school’s most impressive players and it was his skillset that helped guide our team to a winning season last year. Without his leadership skills and discipline, our team would not have enjoyed its success.

Here we have a coach that is introducing the student immediately as a leader and disciplined player. Two (2) key personality traits that a school looks for in a candidate.

Paragraph #1

The first body paragraph of the letter should provide a positive description of the student’s character, as well as list any achievements and awards that they may have earned. This paragraph will provide the main body of the letter and should therefore be at least 4-6 sentences in length.

Example #1

Laura has proven herself to be generous, enthusiastic, and helpful both in and out of class. Not only is she one of my top Physics students, but she has also been responsible for organizing student activities, and speaking at assemblies as president of the Student Council. In this capacity, Laura has demonstrated that she is a confident, well-organized, diligent, and capable leader. She has participated as a tutor in the peer-tutoring program. I personally oversee this program and can attest not only to Laura’s ability to explain and instruct, but also to her patience and her deep commitment to helping others. I am also pleased to say that I was able to award Laura with the AAPT Outstanding Student Certificate for her exemplary performance during her two years as a student in my Physics classes.

In this example a physics teacher demonstrates the student’s positive character attributes by referencing the student’s personal achievements and commitments.

Example #2

When I was first introduced to Jordan, I was immediately impressed by his maturity and confidence. Little did I know that five years later I would be impressed further still by this young man’s incredible development. Jordan is known throughout the school for his athletic achievements in track and field, as well as for being a standout performer in the theatre program. As Jordan’s counselor I have been able to track his incredible personal and academic progress, and I can attest that with his winning smile and perseverance there is no mountain that he cannot climb. By staying after school for extra help in mathematics and science, Jordan has managed to improve his academic performance to such a degree that he has been included on the school Honor Roll for two years running.

This sample has a school counselor drawing upon their lengthy relationship with the student to describe their personal impression of the student’s character, highlighting the student’s work ethic and exemplary performance in multiple fields.

Paragraph #2

The second body paragraph is going to expand upon the first one, emphasizing the student’s participation in school and in school groups, citing specific examples of their positive character traits. Try to connect the student’s various interests and aptitudes to paint a coherent and memorable portrait. This paragraph can run from 3-6 sentences, depending on how many examples are given.

Example #1

Cassandra’s personal character is equally as impressive as her academic achievements. As a public speaker she is able to hold the attention of an entire assembly, and when speaking one-on-one she demonstrates empathetic listening skills, as well as a powerful intellect. Cassandra cares about those around her and is always ready to lend a helping hand or word of encouragement. In her third year, she started a sustainability program along with her peers which now performs an annual school waste audit and gives presentations on waste reduction and practices. With her unwavering enthusiasm and sense of humor, having Cassandra in a classroom is a joy for her teachers and fellow students alike.

The above sample uses descriptive language and specific examples to highlight the student’s communication skills, personal interests, and positive personality traits.

Example #2

As captain of the girls basketball team, Melinda has participated in two state-wide championships and led our school to a victory in a district tournament. This year, she has served as the editor of this year’s school yearbook, proving her ability to delegate work to her assistant editors and organize an efficient workflow. Melinda is not only a born leader and a fastidious worker, she is a kind-hearted and sympathetic individual who strives to make a positive impact on the world around her.

This example uses less descriptive language, instead relying more upon examples that pertain to the student’s extracurricular activities, demonstrating their participation, leadership skills, and sense of responsibility.

Conclusion

The conclusion paragraph can be anywhere from 2-4 sentences long and its purpose is twofold: to summarize the author’s personal recommendation, and to provide a contact method for further questions.

Example #1

Peter’s ability to perform competitively under pressure will surely serve him well in a college setting. He is an organized, intelligent, and capable young man who would be an excellent addition to your school. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions at (555) 414-4141 or JanTravis@email.com.

Sincerely,

Jan Travis
Biology Teacher
Far Away High School

The above sample has a brief summary of the student’s of positive attributes, as well as two contact methods contained in the paragraph body.

Example #2

In conclusion, Clayton has my respect and highest recommendation as an exemplary student. He has demonstrated excellence in all that he puts his mind to, whether working on a group project, or designing a technical experiment. Clayton’s keen interest in understanding how things work and natural aptitude for sciences lead me to believe that he will be a valuable addition to your classrooms. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at the email address provided below if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Mr. John Lewis
Physics Teacher
West Island High School

In this concluding paragraph, the summary is geared specifically towards the college program which the student is applying for. By being specific, the author clearly demonstrates why the student is a suitable applicant for a particular college or university.

Sample 1

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am pleased to be writing this letter of recommendation on behalf of Karen Leyland, a most promising student and wonderful individual. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Math to Karen during her junior and senior years here at Kirby Prep School. If it were appropriate for teachers to pick favorites, Karen would definitely be one of my top choices. She has a winning attitude full of drive and perseverance that goes unparalleled. She is always attentive in class and has a knack for engaging the whole class in participation, but the attribute that admire the most about Karen is her unwavering kindness.

Karen has been at the top of her class in her final year of high school and was always amongst the top 5 in previous years. Her ability to understand complex concepts and solve problems quicker than most people is the main reason why she qualified for the National Merit Scholarship Program. This accomplishment was earned by giving her undivided attention in class and doing extra work outside of the classroom. She’s always able to manage her time superbly and willing to lend a hand to other students struggling with their work. While some are destined to develop leadership skills, Karen seems to possess the intrinsic qualities of a born leader and she’s able to accomplish this without an air of arrogance or superiority towards her peers.

Math is Karen’s main academic focus, but she is also thrives in the music department. She plays saxophone in the jazz band and has a deep understanding of the connections between music and mathematics. I have heard her play on multiple occasions and it’s obvious she has an amazing mind for music comprehension and composition. I’m also fortunate enough to play music with Karen when we both can spare the time and my favorite part about it is the change in teacher-student dynamic wherein I get to play the role of the student again. It’s refreshing and confirms my belief that teachers learn just as much from their students as students do from teachers.

Any college would be thrilled to accept Karen as she is an outstanding student with so much to offer. Our school was very lucky to have her as a student and I’m sure your faculty will feel the same should she be accepted. Karen embraces constructive criticism and strives to improve in every aspect of her education and beyond. She deserves all the good things that will inevitably come her way in her post-secondary years. I would be glad to answer any further questions you have regarding Karen or Kirby Prep School.

Sincerely,
Erik Perkins
Math Teacher
Georgiana Bruce Kirby Prep School

Sample 2

Dear Admissions Committee,

It is without hesitation that I write to you in regards to Ted’s acceptance into your prestigious institution. I am a counselor at Crescent Valley High School and have had the pleasure of working with Ted throughout his high school career. I’ve watched him develop into a well-rounded and mature young man, who will accomplish many great things in his lifetime. He is a talented and hard-working individual who finds joy in helping others. Ted has amazing people skills and can make anyone feel comfortable around him.

In Ted’s first year of high school, he came to me in need of some guidance. He had gone through some heavy family problems and it was causing his school work to suffer. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to help Ted through these rough times. He is a compassionate, caring, and self-efacing person, with an unshakable positive outlook on life. Once he had worked out his own issues, all he wanted to do was take his experiences and help other students with similar problems. He began volunteering at North View Elementary School, talking with kids and even tutoring in multiple subjects. I’ve never come across anyone who wasn’t immediately enamored by Ted’s amicable demeanor.

Throughout his high school career, Ted has excelled in every field of his education and also taken on multiple extra curricular activities. In his senior year, Ted was president of the Student Council, captain of the basketball team, and an honor student. He has become proficient at juggling multiple work loads. He also continued his counselling at the elementary school throughout these years. Even still, he wanted to make a bigger difference. He decided to present his outlook on life by holding a seminar in the gymnasium. Most of the school attended to listen to Ted as he spoke eloquently on overcoming your fears and insecurities and transforming them into positive thinking. It was a captivating 20 minute speech that led to an uproarious standing ovation. Someone managed to film the presentation and the video has thousands of views on YouTube.

I am very pleased that Ted approached me to write this letter as I am so impressed by his achievements and his enormous potential. He is a charming young man who is able to see the good in everyone. If Ted is accepted into your Counseling Psychology Program, there’s no doubt in my mind he will excel in this field and go on to change many lives for the better. The confidence and charisma that he has developed over his high school career is phenomenal and I look forward to seeing that continue in college. Please contact me if you wish to further discuss Ted’s acceptance into your college.

Regards,
William Mackenzie
Guidance Counselor
Crescent Valley High School

Sample 3

September 1, 2017

Dear Admissions Committee,

I am submitting this letter in support of Jim’s application for admission to the Class of 2022 at Michigan State University.

I have been Jim’s supervisor at Bellevue Coffee since he was hired in April 2014. In this time, he has consistently shown himself to be a steadfast, professional, and pleasant employee. Though this is his first job, he has demonstrated professional instincts and a bulletproof work ethic since day one.

A short anecdote to illustrate Jim’s character:

Last Sunday, our early shift barista called out sick. While I, as store manager, would normally cover such an expected absence, I was otherwise occupied with a family medical matter. I reached out to Jim, and he enthusiastically volunteered to take this early shift, even though it meant a 16-hour day for him.

Though Jim routinely works 20 hours per week, I understand that he has only improved his grades since starting this job. Being a first-hand witness to his quick-thinking, judgement, and ethic in the workplace, it is hardly surprising to hear that he again made the dean’s list last spring.

I have no doubt that Jim will be a successful member of the class of 2022 and offer my wholehearted endorsement of him.

Sincerely,

Ryan Shannon


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