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The Teaching Profession: College Letters of Recommendation

Janelle Cox

Have you been asked to write a letter of college admission letter of recommendation for a student and are unsure of what to do? Don’t fret -- it’s not as hard as you may think. As someone in the teaching profession, you have the special opportunity to help your students out by writing them a letter that can help them excel in their future. You have the insight that can give college admissions counselors just what they need to help them make the decision if they should admit the student or not. Here are a few simple tips, well-known in the teaching profession, to help you write the perfect letter of reference.

Use a General Template

The easiest way to write a letter of recommendation for a student is to use a general template. Then all you have to do is fill the student’s name and the specifics to help you get it done quickly and accurately. Here is an example of what you can use as your starting point for your personalized recommendation letter.

To whom it may concern:

I am pleased to recommend Jimmy, whom I taught for four years in my Latin class.

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Remember to keep the first paragraph personalized.

Jimmy has been a bright and inquisitive student throughout his time at Billy Carter High School, and has been an enthusiastic leader of the Latin club, where his ideas and leadership have brought about some amazing events that were fun for all.

Spell out the student’s best traits in the next paragraph or two.

His grades are first-rate, and he is a talented trombonist in the Carter Band.

Mention the student’s other positive traits in subsequent paragraphs.

Overall, Jimmy is an excellent candidate whom I would recommend highly for admission to North Park University.

Sincerely,

Your name
Title
School name

Make sure that you include how you know the individual, how long you’ve known them, what they have accomplished while you’ve known them, as well as why you are recommending them for admission. It is also suggested that you always give them your contact information in case they would like to follow up and speak with you personally about the student.

Always Be Genuine

When a student asks you for a letter of recommendation, make sure that you are prepared to give them a good one. If you feel that the student isn’t deserving of one, then please decline their offer. The last thing a student needs is a letter of recommendation that they cannot use. Be honest with them and tell them why you can’t do it. If you do feel that you are able to write a letter, then make sure that it is authentic and genuine. Always make sure that you are saying how you feel and not just making attributes up to help the student out. If you are having a hard time thinking of what to write, then ask them to fill out a brag form.

Ask Students to Fill Out a Brag Form

While you may know many of your students well, having them fill out a “Brag” form can help you tremendously when writing out your recommendation. A brag sheet is similar to a resume. It’s a document that highlights the student’s skills and accomplishments. Think of it as your “Cheat sheet” to help you write the very best recommendation for the student. You can download a form for the student to fill out online or you can create your own based on what you want to write in the letter of recommendation. Here are a few suggested questions to ask the student:

  • What is your most outstanding accomplishment academically and personally thus far?
  • What are your key high school experiences and why?
  • What are three adjectives to describe yourself?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • What is your greatest strength and how have you used it?
  • What is your biggest weakness and why do you think it is?

Try and Be Unique

Colleges receive a lot of letters of recommendation, so to help your student stand out above the rest, try and add something unique to your letter. Quotes are always a good way to show the employer what the student has to offer. Try and look through their writing pieces and take one from that, instead of copying one or making one up on your own.  If you can’t find one in their work, then ask them to fill out a brag form, and in the form, ask them to either come up with one of their own or to write down their favorite quote. This is a great way to help the student get noticed.

Don’t Forget to Proofread

Once you have written the letter, ask a colleague to proofread it for you and ask them to offer you any suggestions for improvement. It’s also wise to allow the student to have a once-over with it before you commit to printing it on professional letterhead. This letter is important, and if you mentioned something that the student thinks may hinder them from getting into the college or getting the position for the job, then they should be able to let you know.

If you’re still unsure of what to write, then just ask the student what they would like to see in the letter. This is an important document for the student, so if you’re not comfortable knowing what to say, your best bet is just to ask.

Do you have any tips on writing letters of recommendation for students when you are in the teaching profession? Please share them in the comment section below, we’d love to hear your thoughts.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @empoweringed, on Facebook at Empowering K12 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.