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How to write a letter of recommendation

Sean Campbell
Last Updated: 22 November 2021 • 5 min read

Whether you’re applying for university or a scholarship, a letter of recommendation is imperative to helping your cause. It should showcase both your academic achievement, but also highlight some personal traits that make you the ideal candidate.

However even for seasoned teachers and careers counsellors who write countless recommendation letters, knowing how to write a great one can still be a bit tricky. But that’s what we’re here for at Edvoy, to make university applications that much easier.

In this article we’ll take you through the key points of writing a letter of recommendation, with tips on format and some useful sample templates too!

How to write a letter of recommendation

  1. Get the right academic & personal info
  2. Know who to address it to
  3. Explain who you are & your connection to the student
  4. Talk up their qualifications, character and potential
  5. Letter of recommendation format
  6. Letter of recommendation sample template

1. Get the right academic & personal info

Since the aim of you writing the letter of recommendation is to be a strong advocate for a students abilities and suitability for the course (or scholarship), make sure that you have all the necessary information to hand -- test scores, details about the course, their reasons for applying, and any extracurricular activities that might help their cause. (Check out our article 9 Extracurricular activities to do at university that can give your CV a boost)

Having specific information about the student and  the course will really help you write a well-tailored letter that showcases them at their best.

2. Know who to address it to

It may seem simple, but do make sure you know the name and contact information of the person you’re writing the letter to! If they’re applying to multiple courses, it’s fine to keep the address a little more general by writing something like, “Dear admissions counsellor."

3. Explain who you are & your connection to the student

It’s important to state early in your letter of recommendation just why your appraisal of the student matters. Perhaps you’ve taught them for a number of years, or maybe you’ve been working as a careers counsellor for them. Your identity and relationship with the student is what gives you authority after all. 

4. Talk up their qualifications, character and potential

Letters of recommendation are a time for being positive! However just listing off a record of their academic performance isn’t going to make an impact. You should talk about any personality traits that stand out to you, any work they’ve done on an extracurricular basis, and indeed why you believe they could really thrive on the course they’ve applied for.

You don’t have to go over the top in your praise here, but the university may well be swayed by an applicant who could contribute positively to campus life, as well as succeeding academically.

All in all, the key thing is to communicate how and why you believe in the student.

5. Letter of recommendation format

So how long should a student’s letter of recommendation be, and how should it be structured? About 300 - 400 words would be optimum -- certainly no longer than a page! As for the format or structure, around 4-5 paragraphs will do the trick.

Here’s a quick rundown of an effective structure:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction

Explain who you are, your relationship to the student, and why you’re writing.

  • Paragraph 2, 3 (and 4 if necessary): Build the case for the student

This is where you can take the time to talk all about their performance, character and potential. Use examples where possible to back up what you’ve written.

  • Paragraph 4 – Summary

Take a short paragraph to briefly sum up why you would recommend the student, citing the things you’ve written before.

  • Paragraph 5 – Sign off 

Before signing off your letter, it would be ideal to make it known that you’ll be happy to share further information should they want it. Let them know how to contact you, be it by email or phone for a follow up discussion.

6. Letter of recommendation sample template

If you’re still in need of some inspiration, we’ve written a sample of a letter of recommendation. In this case, it’s for a student (who we’ll call Ela) that’s applying to a university.

However, if you have to write a letter of recommendation for, say, a scholarship application, we’d advise also mentioning why the student needs the scholarship, on top of why they’re a good academic or personal fit.

Dear Mrs Thompson,

My name is Sean Campbell, and I’ve spent the last four years teaching English to Ela at Somerset High School, as well as overseeing his participation in the high school’s Model United Nations program. In all this time, Ela has continually impressed me with his academic ability, work ethic as well as his compassion and care for his fellow students. Because of this, I feel compelled to highly recommend Ela for acceptance in the Law program at The University of Roehampton.

For as long as I’ve known him, Ela has demonstrated a willingness to learn in the classroom as well as to impress, while helping others, on the floor in Model United Nations. He has always impressed me with his work ethic and the example he sets to other students. Even though he shines individually, he is a good leader, and like all good leaders, he shows humility and patience with others. His leadership and example-setting conduct is proven in the way that he was named a school prefect.

I firmly believe that in accepting Ela to study Law at the University of Roehampton, you will be gaining a model student with so much potential to go far in life. His ambition and zest for learning, as well as his kind spirit, will equip him to become not just a great legal professional, but a fantastic addition to the university community.

Should you wish to discuss Ela’s suitability for your university in any further detail, I’d be more than happy to help. You can contact me by phone on 123-456-78910, or by email at seanteacher@somesersethigh.com

Yours sincerely,

Sean Campbell

English Teacher & MUN Director at Somerset High School

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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