Linda Abraham

Article Summary:

Ten tips for anyone writing a letter of recommendation for a college or university application.

How To Write a Letter of Recommendation

You’ve written dynamite essays and filled out the applications. All of a sudden you get a crazy thought. What if my recommenders don’t know what to say in the letters of recommendation they’re writing for me? You know they want to help you, but you don’t know if they know how to do so.

Relax. We’ll tell you what a recommender should say. In fact, you can pass these tips on to your recommenders – just in they would appreciate a little help.

10 Tips for Recommenders

1. Review a copy of the applicant’s personal statement or application essays so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with – not conflict with or duplicate – the rest of the application.

2. Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information like a résumé or activity list.

3. Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.

I have been teaching high school drama for fifteen years and have taught AP English for the last five years.

I have personally supervised ten research interns every summer for the last five years plus, I have coached the cross-country and tennis teams at Elite High School for the last five years.

4. Discuss how well you know the applicant.

I had the pleasure of directing plays in which John starred during each of his three years at ABC High School.

Over the last three years I coached Jane as she worked her way up from JV to varsity tennis and state champion.

5. Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant.

Jane has a rare blend of steely determination, incredible self-discipline, and great teamwork skills.

The combination of tenacity, leadership qualities, and good communications skills found in John is truly unique.

6. In discussing those qualities, support your statements with specific instances in which he or she demonstrated those attributes. Be as concrete and detailed as possible.

John’s discipline and dedication were extraordinary – not only did he never miss a practice; he came early to warm up and always worked out for an additional hour after school.

Jane not only participated in every rehearsal; she also made herself available to other actors and actresses for impromptu rehearsals and practices, thus inspiring the rest of the cast to even greater efforts and success.

7. Try to quantify the student’s strengths or rank him or her compared to other applicants that you have observed.

He was in the top 10 percent of his class.

She has the best analytical skill of any high school senior I have ever taught.

8. Avoid generalities and platitudes.

9. Include some mild criticism, typically the flip-side of a strength.

The only fault I have encountered in him is his retiring nature. His modesty sometimes hides a young man of remarkable strength and broad interests.

Occasionally, her fortitude and persistence can turn into stubbornness, but usually her good nature and level-headedness prevail.

10. Close with a ringing recommendation and endorsement of the applicant’s ability.

I enthusiastically recommend Mr. Doe to your university. This well-rounded student will be a fine asset to your student body.

With her exceptional leadership, writing, and quantitative skills, Ms. Smith will be an outstanding credit to the college she attends.

In addition to personally advising hundreds of applicants over the last decade, Linda Abraham is the founder and president of, the premier online resources for college and graduate school applicants. She has written and lectured on different aspects of the admissions process, hosted a successful series of online admissions events, and developed the foremost application editing and advising services on the Web. Linda has been quoted by The NY Times, The Wall St. Journal, Businessweek, Business 2.0, The Washington Times, The Sunday Times, and other fine publications.

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