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Reference Letters

How To Write A Reference Letter

Letters of Recommendation for many faculty and staff members are very important parts of our student’s academic career. Students who have had a positive experience with you, whether in the classroom learning or as a mentor or advisor, are likely to approach you for a letter of recommendation. Here are some simple guidelines for writing a letter of recommendation:

  1. A letter of recommendation is simply a letter that signifies support for a student on their candidacy. Therefore, you need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of that student and carefully reflect if you are able to write a supportive letter. If you feel you cannot, then you need to have a very open and honest discussion with that student. This can be a very educational moment for the student.
  2. The letter should be supportive and reflect the strengths of that student to help the selection committee make a decision on the merits of their candidacy.
  3. The letter of recommendation should address the scholarly capabilities as well as the personal characteristics that stands out for this student in relation to the nature of the application (whether it is for graduate school programs, scholarships or career positions).
  4. Here is the typical format for a well written letter:
    1. First opening paragraph: Identify yourself and your relationship with the student (professor, mentor, advisor, staff member). Include how long you have known the student.
    2. Body paragraphs: After reviewing the student, focus on the outstanding characteristics and academic achievements that would reflect the student’s strengths for that particular letter. Your letter should contain specific examples of the student’s qualifications. What makes them stand out in your mind? What should this selection committee know about this particular student for this particular position/school/scholarship.
    3. Last paragraph: Brief summation – and last remarks.
    4. Letters are usually one – two pages in length.
    5. Save the letter on your computer – often student come again and again to request a letter!
    6. Address the letter to the committee (if known) or using “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Selection Committee.”
  5. A few last points to remember:
    1. When a student asks you for a recommendation letter – ask to meet with the student. This will enable you to discuss their goals, strengths and weaknesses.
    2. Ask the student for a resume/C.V., a copy of the application/recommendation letter requirements, transcripts, a paper/essay or something from a class or your class.
    3. Ask the student when the recommendation is needed and how it needs to be delivered (via email, mail, etc.).
    4. Is a waiver form required? What does a waiver form mean to the student? Often selection committees view confidential recommendations as more credible and give them greater weight in the decision making process. But, it is up to the student to decide to waive or not waive his or her right to see the letter of recommendation.

Resources

Examples of a Career Reference Letter