How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (+ Examples)
A recommendation or letter of recommendation is a business letter. And formal letter authored by a friend, colleague, professor, faculty member, professional, or other person or stature. The authored letter serves as a form of validation to a reader. It validates professional experiences (or achievements), academic achievements, personal qualities, character qualities, and other significant traits.
A recommendation letter is sometimes referred to as a reference letter. These letters are often required for:
- Applying to college, financial aid support, or a scholarship opportunity.
- When applying for an MBA program or graduate program (or graduate school application) as a prospective graduate student.
- Applying for Medical School or Law School.
- Applying for new employment.
- Personal character reference letters are used for real estate dealings, legal dealings, and more. These letters are often referred to as a personal letter of recommendation or character reference letter.
A letter of recommendation is often requested by a previous employee, student, colleague, or friend. And when a student requests a letter of recommendation. A professor may highlight exceptional qualities in the student’s general demeanor. Or their motivations. Or standardized test scores for the online application or admissions committee.
When a letter of recommendation is requested by a previous employee for a job application. The employer or colleague often references career accomplishments that support the job description. Or requirements (hard skills, soft skills, and other competencies).
Students and professors may refer to a letter of recommendation as an academic letter or academic reference. This letter's objective is the same: to vouch for the student and provide insightful comments regarding the student’s academic achievements, character, and goals.
Medical students letters
Medical students may refer to their letter of recommendation as a committee letter. The objective of this letter is roughly the same. The goal is to obtain a letter authored by a health committee or health advisor. These professionals advocate on behalf of the letter requester. And display accomplishments, contextualized challenges, and overall preparedness or motivation for pursuing a career in medicine.
Tip: Using a recommendation form can make the process of asking for a letter of recommendation more seamless. It depends on the needs of the letter requester. For students who need to gather multiple letters of recommendation, this can save considerable time to gather the required letters for an online application.
How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
When being requested to write a letter of recommendation, as a recommender (or letter writer). It’s advised to gather the following details before writing a letter.
Get the following information together
- Gather the proper information from the letter requester. For students, this may include a personal statement, college application deadline, and other application requirements (for a scholarship, financial aid, or MBA program). For a job applicant, this may include the job description, cover letter, resume, company name, company objectives, or mission statement.
- Speak with the letter requester. It can help speak with the applicant about the letter before writing it. Gather desired skills or a specific example of skills that the applicant would like to highlight. This could be leadership skills, adaptability, or other qualities that they feel will be important to their application as a job seeker.
- Recall significant experiences. Share stories in the letter that will attract the admission's committee or hiring manager to read the letter. Keep the story short yet impactful to the desired qualities the letter requester advised to highlight. For a job applicant, this could mean referring to moments of leadership with their teammates. For students, this could mean referring to the student's academic performance.
- Provide contact information. Include contact information for the letter recipient. Ask the reader if they have any further questions and to reach out by email or phone if they do.
- Provide a letter of recommendation. Export the letter of recommendation in both Word Document format and PDF format for the online application.
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Helpful writing tip
It can be helpful for a professor when the student writes their own letter outline for the recommendation letter. The outline should contain qualities to highlight in the letter. Like test scores to include, academic achievements, and general contact information. This includes the student's name, phone number, email address, and more. The professor will use this when writing. This can save the professor or academic teacher considerable time during the writing process and ensure that they receive their letter on time.
Letter of Recommendation Format
Below are the basic components of a letter of recommendation.
Contact information: At the top of the business letter, the letter writer should include contact information. Like their name, job title, phone number, email address, and any other pertinent information for the reader.
First paragraph: The first paragraph should mention what the reader may value in the applicant or person in question. This may include positive attributes, professional qualifications, or characteristics that the hiring manager or admissions committee member might deem appropriate. This should be less than 150 words.
Second paragraph: The body paragraph. This is where the letter writer can share a significant story that defines the person's accomplishments. A moment where the person showed exceptional qualities and characteristics as a student, professional, or person.
End paragraph: Closing statement. The letter writer should provide their contact information once more and indicate that they are available to answer further questions if the reader chooses.
Tip: An effective letter of recommendation is one that is highly targeted to the job description, college application, financial aid, or MBA program requirements. It’s important to read the desired qualifications of an applicant before writing. While potentially time-consuming, this research process can help develop a great letter of recommendation for the applicant.
A professional and strong letter should follow these document guidelines:
- Use business letter document formatting.
- Always use default business letter page margins.
- Stick with 9-point to 11-point font sizing.
- Use a professional font like Helvetica, Garamond, or Times New Roman.
Letter of Recommendation Sample
Below is a sample letter of recommendation from a previous employer, supervisor, or other professional to a job seeker.
Letter of Recommendation Template
Personal or Character Letter of Recommendation Sample
One of your colleagues may ask you to write them a character reference letter. Be sure that you speak with your coworker and ensure that you both are comfortable referencing. From there, ask your colleague or coworker what their specific needs are. For example, you may want to provide information on validating their current employment on a rental application. Ask your colleague about their needs before you start writing.
What is a character reference letter?
A character reference or personal reference letter should contain key insights into who you are vouching for. Either validating their employment or showing and explaining situations that defined that person's positive character. Being a personal reference can mean that someone may call you regarding a personal situation. Be sure that as a recommender, you’re comfortable with this. It would be best if you used a specific example and scenario to describe your friend or colleague. Never write a letter in your own words.
Below is a character reference sample for general purposes. This can be used for a job candidate who attaches this to their job application to provide to their potential employer. Or a personal character reference (personal reference letter) can be used for real estate or loan application needs.
Academic or Graduate School Recommendation Letter Sample
A letter of recommendation for graduate school is a professional business letter (or reference letter) authored by professors, faculty, and other educators for students. The recommendation letter serves to vouch for a student’s coursework, grade point average (GPA), and general ambition. This is useful for the graduate school (or “grad school”) admissions committee.
These letters are often written by a professor since the student is in college-level education. A recommendation letter can be a requirement for a graduate program application. Multiple letters can be required for some graduate program applications and financial aid.
A recommender may be one or more of the following professionals for the student:
- Professor or other faculty member.
- Direct supervisor (internship supervisors are applicable) or a previous employer.
- Priest, minister, or another significant community member.
Recommendation providers or letters authored by these individuals will be considered a “good grace” recommendation for the admissions officer. Each potential recommender is going to be seen as a significant figure to the admissions officer reading the letter of recommendation. And is going to be pivotal for the graduate admission consideration process.
When writing an academic recommendation
Writers should collect graduate application materials from the student in advance of writing. Graduate students should provide application details like the deadline or other required assets when creating their recommendation requests. Refer to the student's performance when writing graduate school letters. A "good letter" for graduate students positions the student as a high achiever who aligns with the institution's values.
These letters are sometimes referred to as a “grad school recommendation,” “grad school recommendation letter,” “graduate school letter,” or “grad school letter.” All of which are the same type of recommendation letter for an applicant to graduate school.
Below is a sample letter of recommendation for a graduate school applicant.
Teacher Letter of Recommendation Sample
When writing a recommendation for a student-teacher. Or a college application. It’s important to have the person who asked you for the recommendation provide you with the application, scholarship, or other information. This may include insights that help you to write a recommendation that helps the student. For example, writing about their passions in education. Or about the experience that you shared as a teacher. And working with them in the school for the summer or over the period of time you’ve been colleagues.
You should ask the person who is looking for this recommendation to provide you with the application deadline. Or admissions committee details. And their general teaching goals to better set you up for success when writing.
If you’re a professor, school counselor, or admissions officer writing this recommendation to a student. Then you'll usually get asked for this during junior year or senior year. You may want to speak with the student regarding their teaching goals so you can write the best letter for the student. It’s not uncommon for a student to ask a guidance counselor, professor, or general counselor to write them a recommendation.
Some areas to consider writing about:
- Student’s academic performance.
- A student’s extracurricular activities that show their passion for teaching.
- Student’s test scores or other strong accolades.
These points of interest can surely help your applicant.
Below is a sample letter to use as a reference.
Teacher letter sample
Letter of Recommendation for an Eagle Scout
As an eagle scout letter writer, here are the points to make within the letter:
- Write about the relationship between the eagle scout and letter writer.
- Explain the reason why the Eagle candidate deserves a positive reference.
- Write about the ways the Eagle Scout candidate lives by the laws and principles of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
- Explain the levels of growth seen by the candidate over time.
- Include contact information in case an Eagle Board review member needs further clarification on the eagle letter.
It may help to reference merit badge awards. Or the number of merit badge awards the Eagle candidate has obtained in this letter, as a letter writer. If this information isn’t readily available before writing, the letter writer should speak with the Eagle candidate to review this information.
Other helpful references could be a significant community project or eagle project that shows excellence on behalf of the candidate outside of scout work. This shows the scout candidate shows Scout Oath and Scout Law outside the traditional methods and employs the education in their daily lives.
The Eagle Board is seeking candidates that show excellence and exemplary merit in following the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
Eagle Scout Application Details
When a scout candidate is looking to obtain letters of recommendation from various personal and professional references. The following pieces of information should be given to the scout candidate. Certain details should be shared with the letter writer. These details include:
- A copy of the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
- A deadline for when the recommendation letter is due (or application is due).
- An email address or mailing address for where the recommendation letter should be sent.
Eagle Scout Application Process
The eagle process for application (receiving eagle rank) is as follows:
- Dates the individual became a boy scout, varsity scout, sea scout. Eagle scout project finished date. Scoutmaster (unit leader) conference, applicant, and unit committee chair signatures.
- Obtain signatures of the applicant, unit leader, and unit committee chair or district advancement chair committee person.
- Obtain 5-6 references and reference letters.
- Merit badges, the date obtained, and more.
- Eagle project title and hours.
- Attachments include the service project workbook and state of ambitions (life purpose, a listing of positions, and awards).
- Submit all application requirements and (hopefully) receive a congratulatory letter, eagle scout award, and eagle certificate.
Each of these need to be completed (each is an eagle scout requirement) before the application can be submitted.
Below is an eagle recommendation sample letter.
Letter of Recommendation for a Friend Sample
As a current employee, recommending a former employee for professional reasons, here are the things that you should consider as the letter writer. First, consider the job title and the company that your coworker is joining. Does it provide you an insight into what their career path looks like? Try to write situations that stood out to you. Ask your colleague what types of skills they want you to highlight. Then consider ways that might support what the hiring manager might be expecting to see from a top candidate on the job application.
This professional letter should be written in a fashion that discusses the person's work ethic, accomplishments, and general demeanor as a professional. It should always be positive and share significant details that don’t seem generic. For example, saying, “Anthony has great interpersonal skills” is not enough.
You should consider what a prospective employer and hiring manager might value, then try to write your letter in a way that supports that. Each specific achievement you reference should be transferable to new job titles and show professionalism.
Don’t forget to take your recommendation and turn it into a LinkedIn recommendation when you’re done. This can be helpful for your friend in the future as a job applicant.
Other helpful pieces of information that your colleague can provide you to write a better letter:
- Their cover letter
- Their resume
- The job description, company name, and company biography
Below is a strong recommendation letter sample when referring to a friend.
Letter of Recommendation for a Scholarship Sample
Students often request a recommendation letter (or reference letter) for future scholarship opportunities. They request this letter of recommendation for a scholarship to the professor, teacher, guidance counselor, or faculty member they are closest to. The recommendation letter will support the student’s scholarship letter. And accompanying school test scores. Or other criteria the admissions officers must review for a scholarship application.
As a recommender, it’s important to consider writing about the following in the scholarship recommendation letter:
- The student’s GPA and educational performance.
- The student’s promising qualities and enthusiasm for their career.
- Significant moments and experiences that show great character and traits.
- Significant academic achievement and overall academic success.
- A summary of the student’s potential.
- A display of skills through experiences (IE: leadership skills).
The applicant should provide the letter writer with a few details to assist in the letter-writing process:
- A copy of the student’s scholarship letter or personal statement.
- The application details.
- The application deadline.
- Information about the college.
- Information about the specific scholarship or financial aid details.
What to write about
A scholarship committee and scholarship provider will be looking for exceptional experiences from the recommendation writer that show excellence on behalf of the applicant. This should include specific examples where the student showed promise, selfless acts of kindness, and motivation to advance to be considered an effective letter. Whether seeking a graduate school scholarship or college scholarship, the details are similar.
Recommendation letter writers should spend time reviewing all the assets provided by the applicant before writing. Reading through the student’s personal statement can be a great way to capture how the student is positioning themselves. And positioning themselves for the scholarship program or selection committee. This can assist in recalling the student’s achievements and experiences that build a quality letter of recommendation.
Due to the number of scholarship applicants per year, it’s best to keep the letter short and impactful. Use experiences and achievements to display the student’s potential as a graduate student, college student, or high school student. Once the letter is completed, send the letter to the student as a PDF and Word document for their online application.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Below are steps for job seekers and students to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation:
- Gather a list of professionals, professors, or faculty to request a letter from.
- Speak with each one over the phone or in person and request their positive letter of recommendation.
- Email them outlining objectives for the letter and any job application or college application details (including the deadline). Or a cover letter, resume, and other candidate information.
- Upon receiving the recommendation letter, send a thank-you email for their time and effort.
Asking a teacher or professor to write a recommendation letter
Include the following information in the email request to a professor or teacher.
Classwork: It can be beneficial to write a summary document outlining classwork. Or grades and achievements so that the professor can reference them when writing the recommendation letter. A professor who teaches hundreds of students is going to need something to look at when they start to write a letter.
A resume: Including a resume can be helpful for the request of a recommendation letter. It can show the professor what career path the student wants to take. And what they are trying to communicate or convey to future employers through prior work experience, skills, and more.
A deadline: Asking a professor to complete the recommendation letter by a certain date can ensure that the student receives the recommendation on time. This can ensure that the student doesn't miss the opportunity to submit the job application before waiting for the professor to complete the letter. This can be especially helpful if using the recommendation letter for a graduate study program or scholarship request.
Be sure to check school policies on asking for letters of recommendation. Some professors, teachers, and institutions force the student to submit a recommendation form. This form puts a formal request to the professor to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Tip: Heard the term "rec letter?" A "rec letter" is a letter of recommendation or recommendation letter. This is a "slang" term for the name recommendation letter.
When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter
And while it's more common to ask professionals to be a reference. Asking for a letter of recommendation can happen at any time in a professional's career or student's tenure.
Contrary to what most professionals and students believe, there's always a great time to be asking for a letter of recommendation. The best time to ask for a letter of recommendation is when a professor or manager is impressed by the letter requester's efforts. When this occurs, that is the perfect timing to be asking for a letter of recommendation.
After completing a major milestone
For example, let's say a professional completed a major milestone, delivered for a client. And the manager was impressed with that work. During that time, the employee should ask their manager for a letter of recommendation. It's best to confide in the manager. And tell them that the recommendation letter does not have any implication on current employment (the employee is not resigning). The employee is asking for a confidential letter because it "feels like the right time."
Students can follow this same idea. When a professor or teacher is happy with the student's coursework. Then it may be a great time to be asking for a letter of recommendation. For a student, asking earlier than the other classmates can be a wonderful idea. Most students wait until the end of the year to request a letter of recommendation. Forcing the professor to be "pressured" by several students applying to grad school or other post-secondary institutions.
The perfect time to ask
The perfect time to ask for a letter of recommendation is when a significant accomplishment has been made. It's okay for professionals who have submitted their two weeks' notice to ask the manager for a letter of recommendation. Especially toward the end of their employment. It's advised to ask the manager for a letter of recommendation before the final day of employment.
If an employee waits until the final day of employment to ask for a letter of recommendation. Then the manager might not feel "compelled" to provide a nice letter of recommendation to the employee. After providing a two weeks' notice, wait one week before asking for a letter of recommendation. Why? Because submitting a two weeks' notice, immediately requesting a letter of recommendation can be misinterpreted by the manager. It might communicate that the employee is "eager" to leave or resign from their position.
How to Ask in Person
Meeting by phone or in-person (face-to-face) to ask for a letter of recommendation is considered a polite act. Here's what to say when speaking with a professional or employer, asking for a letter of recommendation:
Recommendation Letter Request Email Sample
Below is a sample letter request email. Job seekers and students should avoid writing a written request for a recommendation to take longer to receive the letter.
Email subject line: Recommendation Letter Request
Recommendation Letter Templates
More recommendation letter resources.
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