So, a student asked you for a recommendation letter. Now what? How do you write a high-impact recommendation letter?

Recommendations are critical for securing scholarships and admission. A 2019 survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that colleges put more weight on recommendation letters from counselors and teachers than activities or interviews, especially schools with test-flexible policies. Use these tips to help.

Getting Started with Your Recommendation Letter

Ask the applicant for supporting information (resume, transcript, application) to make writing the letter easier for you and more focused on what the student hopes to achieve. Once you have that information, make sure you follow the specific request requirements. Pay close attention to where and when to submit, the required format (PDF or other), what content to include, etc. Note to counselors: It’s a good idea to set a deadline for students to ask teachers for recommendations. This will discourage last-minute requests that make teachers scramble to get recommendations in on time. 

Know Whom You’re Recommending

Encourage your students to choose recommenders carefully—those they know and who have a good feel for whether or not they would succeed at the school they’re applying to. Only write recommendations for students for whom you can give a positive recommendation. Your letter can make a difference in a student’s future. If you cannot be positive, decline the request. Suggest possible alternative recommendation sources, if you can.

Go Deeper than Their Accomplishments

When you write a recommendation letter, do your best to tell stories instead of just stating facts. Students will highlight their activities and academic strengths in their application and academic resume. Your job is to add color to what they’ve accomplished in their high school career. If you can, use examples that are rich with details to sway readers. The more specific and detailed the information you include, the more valuable the letter will be to selection committees. Always consider your audience. Put yourself in the place of the recipient (dean, admissions officer, director) and think about what you’d want in a meaningful recommendation letter.

How to Write a Recommendation Letter

Remember that less is more. Get to the point and clearly explain why the student would be a good fit for the school.

Paragraph 1. Start with a strong introduction like, “It’s my pleasure to recommend…” and share your position/school, how you know the student, and how long you’ve known them. Build the context quickly so you can get to the most important part of your letter.

Paragraphs 2-4+. Highlight key strengths or character traits of the student. Provide the evidence to support your words through specific descriptions, using examples and data if possible.

Closing. Emphasize your endorsement with phrases like “strong candidate” or “highest recommendation.” Include your phone number and email in case the school or program has additional questions. 

Review, edit, and proofread. Double-check that you’ve included all the required information and provided the best recommendation possible. Reread aloud, acting as the recipient, and decide if you would select the student based on your letter. 


Writing recommendation letters can be a thankless task. Beyond the satisfaction of knowing that you may have catapulted someone’s future, we hope that you’ll at least receive a handwritten thank you note. You’ve more than earned it.