How to Write a College Recommendation

Help in writing a college recommendation letter

Letters of recommendation are a very important part of the application process. As colleges become more and more sought out from the increasing number of applicants each year, the need to stand out from the competition is also increasing. Below we will provide helpful information on how to write a college recommendation as well as advice for tailoring each letter.

Advice on How to Write a College Recommendation Letter

A high school transcript can help tell an admissions office a lot about a candidate, but a college recommendation letter provides an opportunity for them to see the whole person. While recommendation letters are never a bad idea to include in the application, even if the college does not require one, many colleges do necessitate the inclusion of one. Here is some advice to keep in mind when writing a college recommendation letter:

  • Know the candidate—It may sound obvious, but it is important that you know the candidate well. After all, how can you write a college recommendation letter for a someone you know little about? Recommendations written for candidates with a vague familiarity are often identifiable and can do more harm than good.
  • How you know the candidate—When you write a college recommendation letter, make sure to include how you know the candidate as well as the length of time you have known that person.
  • Provide relevant information—Be sure to find out the purpose of the recommendation so as to provide relevant information about the candidate and his or her specific qualifications. If the recommendation is to supplement an application, discuss how that person is an appropriate candidate for the college he or she is applying to. Despite its purpose, however, the overall goal of a college recommendation letter is to attest to the capabilities and character of the candidate.
  • Obtain a resume—Another tip on how to write a collage recommendation letter is to first obtain the student’s resume with a listing of his or her GPA, activities, awards, leadership roles, community service, employment experience and special skills. The more information you have about a particular candidate, the more constructive your recommendation can be.
  • Personalize the letter—To help make the letter more personal, before writing a college recommendation letter, it is important to determine the person to whom the letter should be addressed. If the student is unaware of the name, the letter may begin “Dear Selection Committee.”
  • Proofread the letter—One of the most important tips on how to write a college recommendation letter is making sure to proofread it when finished. A letter containing grammatical errors will appear unprofessional and may leave a negative impression.
  • Mailing the letter—Establish with the student whether the recommendation letter must be mailed in an official envelope from your institution, or if it can be included with the application. If it is to accompany the application, return the letter to the candidate in a sealed envelope.
  • Determine the deadline—Double-check with the student as to the deadline of the college recommendation letter. Ideally, you will be given an adequate amount of time to complete a positive, detailed letter, however, the most important detail is that it is received before the application deadline.
  • Save the letter—When you have finished writing a recommendation, be sure to save it in order to help make writing the next college recommendation letter easier. The student will likely be applying to more than one school and may ask that you write a separate recommendation for each one. Although it is important that each letter is tailored to the application at hand, select information can be recycled for multiple letters. It is more convenient to tailor the original passage than to repetitively recollect the advice on how to write a college recommendation.

What Colleges Really Want

Colleges place a large emphasis on a student’s academic ability because what is accomplished in high school is the strongest predictor of their academic success in college. What colleges really want, however, is a win-win situation. They want to admit students who will thrive at their institution, not only for the student’s benefit, but for their own as well. As more and more students become college-bound, colleges and universities will become increasingly selective, placing more emphasis on the ability to know how to write a college recommendation letter.

As a teacher, counselor, employer or personal acquaintance of a college-bound teen, you may at some point receive a request for help in writing a college recommendation letter. These students are not only placing their trust in you, they are putting you in the unique position to make an impact on whether or not they are admitted to their college of choice. Following this advice on how to write a college recommendation will help to ensure a professional letter and give your candidate a greater likelihood of being accepted into his or her college of choice.

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This article was written by Jeff McGuire


  1. Mrs. Johns

    Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for giving me some insight as to what I need to do regarding writing a recommendation for a high school student. I was at a complete lost when my best friend’s daughter asked me to write a recommendation for three colleges that she would like to attend.
    Now that I have some insight from your article, I can take the bull by the horn and write a beautiful recommedation.
    Thank you,
    L. Johns

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  3. Ellery McLanahan

    What is the average length (number of words) in a recommendation letter for a college applicant?

  4. Suebrice

    Letter of recommendation is very important. Recommendation letter, it is a good example of how a letter should be formatted. It is very important to college and school students.

  5. Karl

    Can anyone read the college recs I write before I send them or are they confidential? Curious if my principle or college councelors could legally read and disapprove! Thank you

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