Fillable Printable Professional Letters of Recommendation
Fillable Printable Professional Letters of Recommendation
Professional Letters of Recommendation
Letters of Recommendation
By Jennie Withers
Jessica was a student any teacher would love to have in class. She was in my
Senior English class, on the basketball team I coached, and involved with many
community service organizations. I was only in my second year of teaching, but I knew
Jessica was going to be one of my all time favorites. When she asked me to write a letter
of recommendation for her, I answered quickly, easily, “Absolutely!”
After Jessica left, I sat at my desk paralyzed with fear. It wasn’t long ago that I
was the student requesting letters of recommendation from my teachers. I wanted to
write the best letter of recommendation known to any college review board for Jessica.
But I didn’t know how. Where should I even begin? I thought Jessica’s future rested on
my ability to put words in some sort of order that would make her sound amazing.
After I got over my initial panic, I did what any novice teacher should do. I went
to a veteran teacher for help. The first thing this veteran asked me was, “Do you want to
do it?” It didn’t occur to me I had a choice. Luckily Jessica was a student I wanted to
The advice I received and the tips I've developed will help writing letters of
recommendations for students a much less daunting task.
First things first, how do you feel about this kid?
Just because they ask, doesn’t mean you have to yes. In fact, you could do more
harm than good if your heart’s not in it. Some teachers set up a time in the near future to
meet with the student to discuss the possibility. I didn’t necessarily do this, but I did ask
them, “Why me?” If a student couldn’t answer this, then I couldn’t feel good about
writing a letter of recommendation.
There were several other rules I had when deciding to write a letter for a student.
One, if my gut reaction was no, I can’t do it then I turned the student down. Two, if it
would compromise my ethics as a teacher to write the letter then the answer was no. For
example, if a student is a discipline problem then I cannot write a glowing (as they need
to be) letter of recommendation honestly. Three, the student can’t think of anything for
me to write about.
If the answer is no, there is a responsibility for you to explain why you are
refusing. I told a number of students I couldn’t do it, and although they were not happy
about it, after I gently explained they understood my letter would do more harm than
good. It also helps if you can help them brainstorm other, better options. Just remember
this is not a time to lecture a student about times they’ve misbehaved, it’s a time to help
them move in a different direction. As teachers, we should want them to succeed.
The student must help you
If the answer is yes, the student must do some things for you. My first mistake
with Jessica was that I didn’t let her help me. It’s not enough to like a student when it
comes to writing letters of recommendation. Nobody is going to think much of a letter
that says: I really like Jessica. She’s a cool kid. The student needs to provide some
things in order to help you get started.
-Resume It will tell you what the student’s accomplishments and
involvements are. If they don't have one, send them to the internet for resume
templates. There are free resume templates that were designed specifically for
teens at www.heygetajob.com, and there many other sources for them as well.
-Audience Where is this letter going, what is its purpose? I have written three
kinds of letters of recommendation, college entrance, scholarship and job.
Although they are the same in a lot of respects, there are some subtle
-Reasons Why do they want to attend this college, apply for this scholarship
or get this job?
-Reminisce Students who want you to write a letter of recommendation asked
because they believe they did positive things for you and because of you. Ask
them what those things are. This conversation should also include their
weaknesses, and if they made significant improvement in some area. Bounce
ideas off each other.
-Time This not only means a deadline, but the time needed to create a
masterpiece. I tell my students I need at least a month. I didn’t write letters
for the last minute flyby askers. I responded, “I don’t have time to write a
letter that does you justice.”
-Envelope I’ll use school stationary, but I will not provide an envelope, the
address of where it’s to be sent, or the stamp.
Written in proper business letter format, the letter should open with the name of
the student you’re writing for, how you know them (including the extent of your
relationship and the length of time), and what the student is applying to. The most
important aspect of the opening paragraph is setting the tone. It’s like a thesis statement,
it states why you chose to write the letter for the student.
To Whom it May Concern,
I am pleased to write to you on behalf of Jessica Johnson, who is applying for admission
to Best University. I have known Jessica for two years. She was a player on my JV
basketball team, and is now in my Senior English class. Jessica is a gifted student and
athlete, but perhaps more importantly, she is an outstanding citizen.
This is the portion of the letter where you have to show, not tell, the readers the
student is as great as you think they are. Vague praise or neutrality is avoided through
examples and anecdotes that are glowingly positive. These should illustrate one or more
of the following:
Community and School Service
Unusual Circumstance – something about the student’s life that makes them
Jessica has been an honor student as well as an athlete throughout her high school
career. For most students, this is a difficult balance. But for Jessica, it wasn’t enough.
She became a volunteer at our local nursing home during her sophomore year. This year,
after a unit on oral history, she came to my English class to help her begin a program
called ‘adopt a grandparent’ which pairs a student with a resident at the nursing home.
Jessica’s peers respect her immensely, so it was no surprise that my class enthusiastically
helped her. It is because of Jessica that every resident receives a visit from someone on a
Wrap It Up
To end, summarize why you are recommending the student. Also, make it clear to
what extent you recommend them. There is a difference between recommend and highly
recommend. The committee will probably pick up on this in your letter anyway, so the
honest thing to do is state it.
Jessica displays intelligence and leadership abilities that are well beyond her seventeen
years. I highly recommend Jessica for entrance into Best University. She is a student
that will be an invaluable asset to your institution.
Your letter is typed in business format and you are happy with it. Now, let
somebody else read it, proof it and then do another draft. It will reflect poorly on the
student if there are errors, typos, grammar mistakes, or it’s not coming across clearly.
After the final polish, save it and print two copies, one to send and one for you. I
printed a copy for me for two reasons. The first not all teachers do. I showed a copy of
the letter the student I was writing it for before I sent the other. I let them grade me for a
change. I wanted to make sure I was saying what they needed me to. The second, I don’t
believe in reinventing the wheel. Of course, all of my letters of recommendation were
different because students are different, but there was always something I could use from
one letter to the other.
The last thing I highly recommend is pat yourself on the back. Being asked to
write a letter of recommendation is an honor. It means you are a good teacher, and it
means you have a good rapport with students.