Top Six Things to Include in a Recommendation Letter for Student
Writing letters of recommendation can feel like a daunting task. In fact, there are a lot of angles to consider when piecing together best practices for a recommendation letter for student success in future job prospects, scholarship applications or college admissions packets. Most importantly, the goal is to ensure what you write helps the student in his or her future endeavors. This doesn’t mean you can’t say anything negative. However, when you are unable to share anything positive, you may wish to let the student know. You can suggest that he or she would be better served by asking for a different letter writer.
When you accept a recommendation request, ask the student for a resume. If possible, also ask for a copy of the job posting, scholarship guidelines or school applications. Understanding the goal of the student will help you best serve the request. Whether it is for employment, financial support or admission.
The top six things to include in a student recommendation letter are the following:
Relationship to Student
One of the strongest factors in a recommendation letter is how you know the student. Here are some questions to consider.
- How long have you known the student? A few weeks? Several years?
- In what capacity have you interacted with the student? Mentor? Teacher? Extracurricular coach?
- Why are you the best person to recommend the student? What are your qualifications to make the assessment of this student?
With those questions answered in the first paragraph, you can draft the letter and start putting the student in the best light possible.
Type of Recommendation
You need to ask the purpose behind the letter to know what type of recommendation you are making. Further, if you are writing a letter for a job, then you highlight the work skills. Scholarships should focus on academic aptitude and college applications. These should emphasize the student’s ability to be successful in higher education.
Furthermore, an important aspect of the recommendation you are writing is what you need to focus on. Here are some areas to consider:
- Classroom behavior
- Diligence on assignments
- Soft skills
- Technical proficiencies
- Quality of work
When you start to write your recommendation of the individual, think about how you will introduce your praise. Here are some ways to frame your recommendation:
As you may notice, each phrase can reflect a different weight behind the praise. Moreover, if you want to emphasize a strong student, use words that reflect the strength of your support. While simply stating “I recommend” is not negative, it may not have the same oomph as “I highly recommend.”
After learning the purpose of the letter and framing your praise, you should try to select and talk about the student’s accomplishments that best fit the audience for your recommendation. Whatever accomplishments you choose to highlight, remember to put those achievements in context. If a student earned a high grade in your class, explain how many students typically earn that same grade. By providing context or a ranking, you can help the reader understand how the student fits in the larger scheme of your experience.
If you are aware of other awards or accomplishments that the student has earned that have not been listed on the resume provided, feel free to add that information in to your letter. Many times, students are new to creating and writing resumes. Frequently, they do not know any better and might leave off important details and information.
Some accomplishments you may wish to highlight include:
- High grades (a grade point average of 3.0 or better)
- Honor roll
- Rankings in regional and national organizations
- Sporting awards
- Volunteer activities
Even in the business world, men are more likely to be praised for their potential and women are often praised for personality traits. When writing letters, avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes. Push yourself to talk about your student in terms of potential and abilities rather than solely personality. That isn’t to say that having a cheerful and helpful personality is not something to highlight. Rather, try to make sure you showcase potential and skills as well.
Many students are involved in multiple activities. The first choice is to select ones that fit best with the anticipated outcome (e.g., job, scholarship, school). Here are some attributes you can include in a recommendation letter:
- Drive and focus
- Intellectual curiosity
- Leadership skills
- Passion and joys
- Resilience and willingness to try again
- Talent in academics, sports, extracurricular activities
- Time management
- Work style
Think of the assets you highlight as the best parts behind the individual who has asked you to write their recommendation. However, don’t let the letter become a list of attributes. Make sure you provide context and paint a picture with the things you highlight.
You may wish to include in-demand skills. Skills can be technical or professional. Along with the student’s best attributes, focusing on in-demand skills can help distinguish the student from others. Here are some top skills to highlight in a recommendation letter:
- Ability to work independently
- Critical thinking
- Decision making
- Field-specific computer programs
- Positive outlook
- Team player
Similar to the attributes, try to frame the in-demand skills as more than a list. You should expand upon and illustrate what the student has done to demonstrate those abilities.
One way you can make attributes and in-demand skills more than just a list is by using anecdotes. Although many may think of anecdotes as something you tell during a speech or as part of a conversation, the reality is that an anecdote is a short story that illustrates the point you may try to be making. By telling one or two key stories that demonstrates who the student is, you can help the person reading your letter appreciate why the student should get the job, scholarship or admissions slot.
As with many things, it should be a best practice to provide professional and appropriate anecdotes that provide the framework for understanding how the student may perform in future situations. Choose stories that can reveal the inner character of the student. Just like any other praise or accomplishment call-out, put the information in context.
For example, if you used a student’s paper as an example for the rest of the class, you can explain in your letter how often you select student work for that honor. Even a single sentence might be able to illustrate as much about the student as an entire resume. You should try to reveal who the student is as you know them.
A recommendation letter for student success is not complete without your contact information. Put whatever means of communication is most comfortable for you. If you prefer email, add your professional email.
Be careful not to include any personal information you don’t want a student to access. It is perfectly acceptable to use your professional address or work phone number. Don’t forget to add an extension if you have one.
The reason to include your contact information in the letter itself is so that a reviewer or reader can reach you with clarification or follow-up questions. While many applications ask for reviewer information as part of the initial process, providing readily accessible contact details can help the person reading your letter feel happier about not having to hunt for your information.
Why You Should Focus on These Six Things in a Recommendation Letter for Students
Because a recommendation letter for student is a formal piece of correspondence, it’s often a good idea to re-read and revise the letter before sending it off. Look for weak language, clichés, and generic praise. Many letter readers can try to look between the lines of what you write, so try to present the strongest case on behalf of the person who came to you for a recommendation.
Be prepared to tell a student that you might not be able to write him or her a strong letter of recommendation. As difficult as it might seem, your students will be better served if you can reserve your letter writing for those who you may feel most comfortable recommending.
A recommendation letter is often an important part of a student’s entry into a more professional world. By explaining your relationship to the student and focusing on what type of recommendation you are making, you may be able to help the individual advance to the next step in his or her life. To accomplish that, you can speak to the student’s best attributes and in-demand skills. Finally, don’t forget to provide your contact information so you can be more easily reached if there are questions.