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“Back in 1991, the University of Pennsylvania had a 47% acceptance rate, whereby contrast 2016’s rate came in at 12.3%.” (Source: Open Education Database)
“For Princeton applicants to the class of 2022: total applicants are 35,370; total admits are 1,941; total enrolled are 1,346; admit rate is 5.5 percent.” (Source: Princeton)
What Is a Student Letter of Recommendation?
Also referred to as a letter of reference, a student letter of recommendation is the document that assesses the qualities, capabilities, and characteristics of a specific student with the intention of recommending him or her to a certain educational institution. These are normally written at the request of the students themselves and are to be addressed to colleges or universities. Besides scholastic reasons, the other purpose played by this kind of document is to help its subject in attaining employment, although that kind of letter is referred to as an employment reference. When it comes to the scholastic variety, applicants can be given the choice of waiving their right to view these letters or not. Waiving the right is encouraged because it can be considered a sign of confidence in their recommenders. Unlike other documents, such as HR letters, this should be a positive letter although some mild criticism can be permitted.
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The Types of Letter of Recommendation
A letter of recommendation is not just meant for college admissions. As a matter of fact, there are at least three different types or variations that will come in handy at different points of one’s life. Given how likely it is for anybody at all to encounter all of them at some point, it is wise to familiarize with them sooner rather than later.
How to Make a Student Letter of Recommendation
For those who have been tasked with writing a letter of recommendation for a former student, know that there are specific things to keep in mind. Below are the steps that you will need to take in order to successfully accomplish this endeavor in the best way possible.
Step 1: Review Letter Examples or Download Templates
If you have not written a letter of recommendation before, then it would be a wise move on your part to familiarize yourself with the layout. In order for you to do so, it can be as simple as either downloading a template or getting a sample letter for you to study. From there, you can decide on how you are going to go about in writing the letter of recommendation.
Step 2: Write Down Your Contact Information
As someone trusted enough by the applicant to write the letter of recommendation, you are placed in a position of authority. Therefore, it would not be unlikely for others to look to you for help if ever they decide that they need more information on the student or if they have any follow up questions to ask. Be accessible to them by writing your contact information in the letter. Doing so will greatly aid the efforts of the student and it will also help prevent the occurrence of any future misunderstandings.
Step 3: Include Important Information about the Applicant
You will have already conducted your own talks with the student regarding what information to include in the letter of recommendation. Be sure to ask about the specific schools that the student is aiming to apply for, along with any details that might help him or her get accepted. Include information that is already in their CV or resume and expound upon it when the time is right so that you can successfully create a more targeted and personalized letter.
Step 4: Talk about the Applicant’s Strengths and Weaknesses in Detail
Now that you are more aware of what the layout of the letter is and what information you need to include, the next step is to be as descriptive as possible when it comes to the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, you would want to highlight the best and most relevant skills that will get the student accepted into their school of choice. However, that does not mean that you are to gloss over any weaknesses on their part. Transparency is going to but much appreciated, so don’t hesitate to talk about any areas that require improvement on the student’s part in order to set the proper expectations.
Step 5: Include Any Relevant Work Experience or Accomplishments
There will be more to an applicant’s credibility than just what went on in the four corners of the classroom. If the student has any work experience or if the two of you have worked in the same organization or company before, then be sure to mention it. Go into detail about how that experience has contributed to the student’s overall character development over the years. Also, mentioning any extracurricular achievements will never hurt anybody’s chances of getting into college or university, so be sure to mention those as well whenever possible.
Step 6: Conclude the Letter
When you come to the last part of the actual letter, dedicate one paragraph for your closing remarks. In this paragraph, be sure to write an offer to give even more information. Basically, this is where you can place your contact information. Besides that, you must also tidy up everything else that you have written about the student thus far in a neat fashion. Conclude by writing your name, any official title you may have, and then after it has been printed out, personally sign it with your signature.
Step 7: Proofread What Has Been Written So Far
The last step would be to simply check on what you have written so far to see if there are any errors that need to be corrected. This will not only include any typos or grammatical errors, but also any misinformation that might have been accidentally included. Double-check the facts and see to it that everything is accurate. Having any errors on the letter of recommendation is going to reflect not only on the student but also on the one writing it, so for the sake of credibility, re-read and be diligent with this final step. This last step rings true regardless of what kind of letter you have in mind, even sales letters and HR cover letters.
The Do’s and Don’ts of a Student Letter of Recommendation
Even those who have been writing letters of recommendation for their students for years will want to know what the many do’s and don’ts are. Simply put, these are the tips that anyone can put to good use for the improvement of their documents. Check them about one by one and see just how their application can make a vast difference.
Do focus on a specific school.
When writing the letter of recommendation, do so with the intended destination in mind. Different schools will have different standards, so it is best to try and adapt appropriately. Do your best to focus on the skills that will better relate to the applicant’s overall capacity to succeed in a specific school.
Do collect the necessary information.
It is recommended to ask the student for a copy of his or her resume. In doing so, you can put yourself in a better position to speak about his or her personal experiences. If possible, you should try to meet with the applicant in person so you can conduct your own interview and gather as much necessary information as possible.
Do specifically mention how you know the applicant.
How do you know the student? Was he or she a student of one of your classes? Did you specifically mentor him or her? To make your letter all the more credible, you know to explicitly state the relationship between yourself and the applicant. If you are an employer rather than a professor or mentor, mention and explain the role played by the applicant in your organization along with how long the two of you have known one another.
Do include specific examples.
When trying to display where the student is strong and where he or she is weak when it comes to academics and other areas, it is best to come up with specific examples. Do not just state that the student is lacking in mathematics, for example, but has a strong predisposition towards history; talk about certain moments of failure for the latter whilst mention consistent displays of excellence for the former. This will paint a better picture and make the letter of recommendation a lot stronger.
Do avoid any clichés.
For the most part, do your best to avoid using clichés in your recommendation letter. Even if it is true that the subject of the letter is ‘diligent,’ ‘resourceful,’ and ‘hardworking,’ those are still words that many over-use. Instead, take the advice directly above this and include specific examples that demonstrate such attributes or characteristics. Don’t just tell; show them as well.
Do follow the guidelines for submission.
Different institutions will have different submission guidelines for recommendation letters. Be sure to make yourself aware of what those are for the school that your student is looking to apply to and adhere to them strictly. Failure to do so may result in your student’s overall failure to gain admittance into the school of their choice, which is a grave scenario for all involved.
Don’t neglect to share your contact information.
You may think that you have successfully covered everything in your letter of recommendation, but there is still the possibility that others would like to contact you for any clarifications or for follow up questions. For that very purpose, it would be wise to include your contact information for the convenience of everybody involved.
Don’t reference characteristics that can serve as the basis of discrimination.
As helpful as you think it might be to make references to racial, gender, sexual orientation, political leanings, and other characteristics, know that doing so will open opportunities for potential discrimination down the line. Instead of focusing on any of those, be sure to instead look into their academic and work characteristics. Colleges would prefer to know how they’ve performed in their previous school and what accomplishments they have to their name as opposed to anything that is too personal and irrelevant to their admission.
Don’t go for any generalities or platitudes.
Being specific is one of the key points of writing a letter of recommendation. Your student is not just another face in the crowd, but a candidate for college application. By resorting to generalities, you undermine the value he or she can bring to the table. Rather than generalities, be as clear and specific as possible in order to highlight what the student has in the most effective way possible.
Don’t utilize vague or empty words when describing the applicant.
As someone tasked with writing a letter of recommendation for a student, you are likely working in the field of education and academia. Therefore, it would be beneath you to take the lazy route and utilize overly-used words such as ‘beautiful’ or ‘rewarding’ so nonchalantly. When you do find yourself using them, be sure to back it up. The future of your former pupil may depend on the quality of your letter.
Don’t hesitate to include mild criticism.
Just because you are writing a letter of recommendation, it does not mean that you need to shy away from any and all forms of criticism. The point is to paint a crystal clear picture of the applicant and that goes for whatever strengths and weaknesses they have. As glowing as it should be, it would only add to the transparency to include some mild criticism in the letter. This is sure to be a realistic take on the student and will help in setting the fairest expectations possible.
Don’t neglect to quantify the applicant’s rank or strength.
The general performance of the student can be used to help make a stronger case for their application at the college or university. As part of the letter of recommendation, it would be wise to include mentions of how the subject of the letter ranked in comparison to his or her classmates. This will provide a clear outlook on how well the student performed compared to his or her peers, along with where his or her academic strengths lie.
There is no denying just how essential a student letter of recommendation can really be, especially for those who are trying their best to get into the best schools possible. For those who are in need of such documents but do not want to completely start from scratch, then know that there are several resources available to you online. All you need to do is download the recommendation letter template of your choice, edit it to suit your needs and then print it out at your leisure.