Writing a letter of recommendation could be one of the nicest gifts you can give an aspiring student. It's that time of year! Students across the country are putting together their college applications. Many of these packages require multiple letters of recommendation. Having gone through this process four times, the kids were always looking for someone to write a personal letter of recommendation. I was always either volunteering or being asked to write one for their friends. Having authored at least 50 of these in the past few years, I have developed some advice for writing a college letter of recommendation that highlights the student's accomplishments, personal character and academic record. To compose a great letter that will really spotlight their strengths is easy with these 5 tips.
Step 1 Before you ever start writing a letter of recommendation, take time to sit with the candidate. Ask them to bring their college activity/resume sheet as well as the application form that outlines what is required for their recommendations. While you may know they are great kids, take a look at what they have accomplished or been involved with during their high school years. Ask questions.. why did you join this organization, what did you do in this club, how did you become involved in this activity. You need to get a handle of the depth and diversity of their activities. It always amazed me how much I learned in these short sessions that really helped me to develop a stronger letter of recommendation.
Step 2 Get ready to write. Outline the points you want to make. College admissions departments and scholarship review committees get thousands of letters this time of year.. so make yours stand out. Keep it short.. no longer than one page. Keep it specific. Everyone will write what a great kid their candidate is, so you need to differentiate your letter. Highlight outstanding accomplishments and relate them back to how this makes the candidate special. Do not list all their activities. Their own resume/activity sheet will do that. You are trying to give the reader an insight into this student that they may not see in the college application and distinguish them from the pack of other students!
Step 3 Write your letter. If you have personal or business letterhead stationery,use it. Make sure you have the name and official title of the recipient. Always reference the student's name and either social security or application ID number before the salutation of the letter. This is important. College admissions departments file everything by one of these two numbers. Without it, your letter may never get into the student's file. Your opening sentence should specifically state why you are writing this letter. For example, "It is with great enthusiasm that I am writing this letter of recommendation on behalf of (full name of candidate) for admission into (name of college/university)."
Step 4 The body of the letter should include several points. You should identify how long and in what capacity you have known the student. Don’t be afraid to point out background information about a strong family foundation. Personalizing the letter makes for a more interesting read. Next outline the accomplishments, attributes and interests of the person and relate them back to why the candidate would be an outstanding choice for admission.
Step 5 The conclusion of the letter should be a strong one line reiteration of the candidates qualifications. You should also include your personal email and/or phone for any follow up that may be required. While the recipient may never reach out to you, this offer of further contact underscores your commitment to the student’s qualifications. Never forget when writing a letter of recommendation ... Check spelling and grammar! See some samples I have written in the past.
Here are three samples I have written for various students recently. One is an alumni recommendation, one is for a graduate student assistant position and the last is for a Boy Scout applying for Eagle Scout certification. All different in direction, but the letters somewhat similar in content and the same in format.
So, polish up your pen and lend some help and support to your favorite students. The whole college admission process is a stressful one for the kids, so your offer to help by writing a letter of recommendation will be appreciated more than you could ever expect! For more information on choosing a college, applying to college and finding scholarship monies visit the newest addition to our site Celebrate College.
IF you need help asking for a letter of recommendation.. here it is!
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