Prospective college students are usually required to submit personal recommendations as part of their application. These recommendations often come from teachers and guidance counselors. Sometimes, however, students ask others such as employers, volunteer coordinators, clergy, family friends and neighbors to write recommendations for them. If you are asked to write a college recommendation for a student, here are some guidelines to help you write a useful letter.
1. Ask the student questions before writing the letter. Ask what colleges he is applying to and what he will be majoring in. Also, ask if there is anything specific he would like you to include in the letter. You don’t have to put it, but he may have some ideas that you think are good that you may not have thought of on your own.
2. College admission officers mainly want to know that the prospective student has the skills necessary to be successful in school. When writing your letter, focus on the positive qualities that you know the student has that will help him succeed. Organizational skills, determination, time management, problem solving skills and responsibility are all good areas to focus on. If you can, give concrete ways in which you’ve seen the student display these skills.
3. Focus mainly on skills that are relevant to success in college and the major. If your babysitter asks for a recommendation and she is planning to major in economics, focus on skills such as reliability and problem solving skills, not on her great ability with kids. However, if she is majoring in early childhood education, focus on her skills with children.
4. Once you know what you want to say, here is how to organize a one page letter. First, introduce how you know the student and how long you’ve known her. You can say something like, “I have been Jane Doe’s manager at McDonalds for two years, and I am glad to recommend her to your school.” Then, get right into the qualities you see that she has that will make her a successful student and an asset to their school. Finish up with a paragraph that includes a sentence like, “If have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at…” Rarely will a school call, but they like to have the option.
5. One big don’t – Don’t allow the student to write the letter and have you just sign it.
John Murray publishes a blog filled with helpful articles and tips on writing a great recommendation letter.