Letters of Recommendation

Writing Letters of Recommendation

Writing letters of recommendation for students applying to graduate schools and to jobs can be a difficult and time-consuming task for professors or other university personnel. Students may request a letter written to a specific school or job, OR, they may request a general "To Whom It May Concern" letter. Please use departmental letterhead for either of these.

You may want to meet with the student in advance to a). Get to know them a bit better and b). Get a feel for what their own academic and professional plans/goals are. Also, what are their expectations of this recommendation? You might also request specific information from the student in order to write the letter. Some of the things you could ask for are:

Some faculty develop a form they give to students that requests this information. You may find that the qualities and skills that might predict potential success in graduate school would be different than those for a job, so letters of recommendations for jobs may differ from those for graduate school.

Tell the student how you feel about writing a letter for him/her. If you do not feel you could provide a thorough enough or positive enough letter on the student, let him/her know that when the request is made. If you do write anything that is negative in a letter, you should provide evidence for your statements.

The following outline may provide helpful information in determining what to include in a letter of recommendation:

Schools and employers appreciate specific examples or evidence to back up what was said in the letter. The letter should place emphasis on the student's skills, abilities and experience that fit the requirements of the position or graduate school program. Do not include information that might indicate the individual's race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, gender or marital status, UNLESS it is relevant to the position for which he/she is applying and you've discussed it with the student. (For example, if the student is applying for a position in which having a multicultural background would be an asset in carrying out the duties of the job.)

If you are willing to receive calls from employers or schools requesting further information on the applicant, you could include your business phone or home phone, and/or email, in the letter.

Most letters for employment are one page and most letters for graduate school are 1 - 2 pages. Please give the student an approximate time when the letter will be available.

The appearance of the letter is a reflection on both you and the candidate. Typed letters are strongly recommended, with careful proofreading.

Some words/phrases that have impact in letters include:

  • articulate
  • effective
  • sophisticated
  • self-confident
  • intelligent
  • self directed
  • observant
  • significant
  • highly responsible
  • expressive
  • creative
  • efficient
  • shows initiative
  • cooperative
  • imaginative
  • assertive
  • energetic
  • dependable
  • mature
  • innovative