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
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.
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
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
Extra-Curricular activities as you have observed them
Personal traits of student-character strengths and any weaknesses
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
displays strong analytical qualities Excels in mathematical calculations Excels in analytical thinking
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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