Writing the Letter of Recommendation

Letter of recommendation hold substantial weight in college admission decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can highlight impressive characteristics beyond his/her own self-advocacy. Colleges are looking for people who have and will make and impact—the difference between a letter that supports and a letter that raves about a special student.

Teacher evaluations are most helpful when they are specific and storied. They should provide us with the information and impressions we cannot gleam from the rest of the application. Try to give a complete sketch of the student and the context of his/her
accomplishments. Support your conclusions with facts and anecdotes whenever possible. A
story or incident that conveys the character or merit of the individual is more telling than a mere statement like “Mary is mature”.

Try to address the following questions in your evaluation:

  • What is the context of your relationship with the applicant? If you do not know the applicant well and are only able to write a brief summary, please acknowledge this to us.
  • Has the student demonstrated a willingness to take intellectual risks and go beyond the normal classroom experience?
  • Does the applicant have any unusual competence, talent or leadership abilities?
  • What motivates this person? What excites him/her?
  • How does the applicant interact with teachers? With peers? Describe his/her personality and social skills.
  • What will you remember most about this person?
  • Has the applicant ever experienced disappointment or failure? If so, how did he/she react?
  • Are there any unusual family or community circumstances of which we should be aware?

Pay special attention to the opening and closing of your evaluation. Remember, we are sometimes reading tens of thousands of applications and we appreciate strong statements that we’ll remember as we evaluate each candidate. With that said, please write in a way that makes you feel comfortable and do not shy away from giving us your honest impressions. We are only
looking for glowing superlatives if they are backed with examples and give us context.
Above all else, make sure to go beyond a student’s grades and academic performance. We can get this information from other parts of the application.

Teacher Recommendation Example 1

It is a great pleasure for me to recommend David for admission to XYZ. He is one of the most extraordinary students I have encountered in 20 years of teaching. I had David in A.P. Calculus last year as an 11th grader, and he was one of the students in an extremely able group of mostly seniors. He has a high aptitude for math and was very much involved in his work, applying himself with persistent dedication and often going beyond the regular class assignments.

David’s biding interest, however, is computer science. He has developed a series of “strands” for use in providing computerized drill and review in the basic skills and techniques of algebra and arithmetic, and has recently adapted these to other subjects. David’s work in this area has been so original and significant that he has published a paper on it and delivered several lectures to professionals in other parts of the country. This is a phenomenal accomplishment for anyone, especially a man in rural Arkansas. It is also worth noting that both last year and this year he taught computer programming to a tenth grade class of mine for two weeks. He took over completely, preparing lectures, assignments, and tests with great care and thought. His lectures were clear and well organized, and it was obvious that he expanded a great deal of effort to make the course the success that it was.

David’s personal qualities are as impressive as his intellectual accomplishments. An extremely kind, sensitive and sensible boy, he has had a difficult family situation. He provides emotional support to his mother through her battle with cancer without allowing the situation to undermine his own stability and accomplishments. He has exhausted all that we have to offer him in this small community, and the maturity that he has demonstrated leads me to believe he is ready for a college of your caliber. I sincerely hope you will offer him a place in your freshmen class!

Critique: Excellent! This recommendation is filled with comments from someone who clearly knows this student well. We get a clear sense for not only David’s intellectual capacities, but also emotional maturity. His genuine love for computer programming comes through in this teacher’s description. We also realize that he is pushing academic boundaries in his community and making opportunities for himself.

Teacher Recommendation Example 2

Jen was a student in one of my predominantly senior physics classes. She took physics her junior year in high school and was a good student. Through hard work she was able to develop a good understanding of the subject material.
Jen also had personal qualities that are commendable. In the two years that I have known her, I have never known her to be dishonest or untrustworthy. Once on an exam paper I had made a grading error in her favor. She brought this to my attention even though it resulted in a lower grade.

In conclusion, I feel that Jen has both the academic and personal qualities to be a credit to the college of her choice, and I give her my recommendation without reservation.

Critique: We receive thousands of recommendations like this each year. It is all positive, but it doesn’t give any real depth to the candidate. In this instance, the reader is left feeling the writer is reaching for something to say. Honesty and trustworthiness are certainly admirable traits, but they are not uncommon among the nation’s top college applicants. We are looking for a compelling reason to admit someone. Although Jen may be a hard worker, most of our applicants are too. Although the comments are positive, it is difficult to grasp onto anything tangible to make this candidate’s case stronger. Was this faint appraisal? How does Jen faire in comparison with other outstanding candidates at the school?

***The above information was taken from the MIT website on suggestions for teacher recommendations.

Optional Letter Template

1st Paragraph:Name of student, classes they had with you, year in school when they had
you in class and the grade they received. Personalize this information.
2nd:Kind of work the student did in your class
a. Course they took
b. Examples of paper topics
c. Way student handled the course content
d. Responsibility and reactions to criticism
e. Strengths & weaknesses of student’s work
3rd:Behavior in class
a.How well were they prepared
b. Enthusiasm for the course
c. oral discussion skills
d. student leadership role and how other class members reacted
4th:Extra-Curricular activities as you have observed them
5th:Personal traits of student-character strengths and any weaknesses
6th:Short, emphatic end with how strongly you recommend the student

The more unique you can make the student, the greater the chance they will get in or win a scholarship. A blanket statement not followed by an example will mean nothing to the reader.
Always be honest, don’t overstate the students abilities/qualities.

Descriptors Colleges Look For In Recommendation Letters


strives for a high achievement level
Excels the norm
Is a high achiever
Excels in achieving outstanding results

Analytical Skills:

displays strong analytical qualities
Excels in mathematical calculations
Excels in analytical thinking

Communication Skills:

communicates clearly & concisely
Encourages a free exchange of ideas
Relates well to others
Excels in verbal communications


works effectively with others
Is extremely cooperative
Builds strong relationships
Cooperates with enthusiasm


demonstrates a high degree of originality and creativity
Displays active imagination
Demonstrates imaginative insight
Provides valuable insight
Seeks creative alternatives
Discovers new approaches
Excels in developing new perspective
Is clever & imaginative when confronted with obstacles
Is able to develop creative solutions to challenging problems
Is inventive
Develops unique course of action
Seeks new ideas & approaches
Promotes the flow of good ideas
Generates fresh ideas
Displays a sense of inquiry
Displays a strong power of observation
Promotes a creative climate

Decision Making:

Makes decisions with confidence
Is reliable in making sound decision
Makes sound decisions under pressure
Makes inventive and resourceful decisions
Makes decisions based on sound logic
Concentrates on developing solutions
Develops fresh solutions


is consistent, dependable and accurate in carrying out responsibilities
Displays industriousness, conscientiousness and dependability
Accepts all responsibilities fully & meets deadlines
Consistently punctual
Able to achieve results despite obstacles
Fulfills all commitments


sets realistic goals
Effectively develops goals
Uses goals to maintain momentum
An enthusiastic goal achiever
Achieves and surpasses goals
Sets high standards


demonstrates a high level of initiative
Takes prompt and independent action
Eager to take on new assignments
Is energetic and enterprising
Is a self starter
Plans and organizes with little or no assistance
Does things without being told
Effectively initiates solutions
Takes advantage of all opportunities
Is alert for new opportunities
Requires minimum supervision


Seeks innovative solutions
Excels in proposing innovative practical skills
Willing to implement new ideas and approaches
Takes innovative steps to achieve results
Displays strong innovative capabilities
Very innovative with limited resources

Interpersonal Skills:

Displays genuineness in dealing with others
Recognizes the needs of others
Demonstrates strong interpersonal skills
Projects a pleasant demeanor
Builds a climate of trust
Excels in effective human relations
Respects the opinions of others


Weighs alternative courses of actions
Is reliable in using good judgment


Displays a broad application of knowledge
Is able to effectively apply knowledge
Excels in dissemination of knowledge
Excels in conveying knowledge to others
Displays a strong understanding of relevant issues


Projects self-confidence, authority and enthusiasm
Successfully meets the position’s leadership challenge
Demonstrates natural leadership ability
Displays a strong ability to lead and direct
Is a charismatic leader
Dynamic leadership
Leads with authority and respect
Is motivating and inspiring
Takes a leadership role in group situations
Is emulated by peers
Trusted leader
Quick to gain the trust of others
Inspires others to do their best
Promotes teamwork

Learning Skills

Receptive to new ideas
Fast learner
Displays a short learning curve
Displays an exceptional ability to learn new methods


Displays unwavering dedication
Extremely dedicated
Strong loyalty
Sense of purpose


Displays a high degree of emotional maturity
Maintains a mature attitude

Mental Skills

Exceptionally keen
Grasps the most difficult concepts
Displays a depth of understanding
Displays fresh insights
Displays fresh thinking
Draws sound conclusions
Sustains logical thinking
Excels in intuitive thinking
Excels in independent thinking
Thinks strategically
Displays a very high cognitive ability
Displays an inquiring mind


Displays a strong incentive to succeed
Strives for the achievement of excellence
Strives for excellence at every opportunity
Displays energy and vitality in performing daily assignments
Displays high energy and drive
Highly motivated inner drive
Highly committed
Strong competitive drive
Maintains fresh enthusiasm
Inspires enthusiasm
Seeks greater challenges
Generates positive attitudes
Goes beyond what is expected
Capitalizes on opportunities
High energy
Self Motivated
Results oriented

Oral Expression

Eloguent speaker
Inspiring speaker
Communicates with ease
Expresses ideas clearly
Is highly articulate


skilled in gaining the support of others
Excels in changing attitudes
Very convincing
Very influential
Conveys a strong influence

Problem Solving

Demonstrates a strong ability to identify, analyze & solve problems
Demonstrates cohesive solutions
Creates satisfying solutions
Displays an ability to solve problems, think, reason and learn
Approaches problems from multiple points of view
Decisive in handling problems
Shows a strong ability to solve problems
Excels in developing viable solutions
Works well with others in solving problems
Looks upon problems as exciting challenges
Turns problems into opportunities


Demonstrates self reliance
Capitalizes on personal strengths
Makes maximum use of all resources
Able to draw on a variety of resources to achieve results
Effectively uses all sources
Obtains additional resources when necessary


Honors all commitments
Personally accountable
Eager o seek challenges


copes effectively with adversity
Handles emergencies
Keeps situations in perspective
Performs well under pressure
Handles dilemmas with calmness
Remains calm under pressure
Displays impressive poise under pressure
Handles the unexpected
Maintains control in all situations

Time Management

Meets all deadlines consistently
Uses time productively
Uses time wisely
Schedules time effectively


Highly skilled in multi tasking
Effectively handles concurrent assignments
Effectively handles special assignments
Flexible to change
Embraces change
Receptive to change

Writing Skill

accomplished writer
Writes clearly and effectively
Demonstrates creative writing ability
Writes with enthusiasm
Possesses a large vocabulary
Writes with original thoughts and ideas
Writes with persuasion
Skilled in writing on controversial subjects