It’s time to ask your professor, boss, or colleague to draft a convincing and enthusiastic letter of recommendation for your grad school application. And honestly, you are not looking forward to it. The recommenders you want to write on your behalf are very busy people; can they really give this the attention it requires so that the final, polished LOR will boost your application chances?
When you pass these tips along to your recommenders, you will instantly make their job much easier. Following the advice and examples below removes the guesswork about what should go in these letters and clarifies the most helpful information that will impress the admissions officers and help secure your spot in the incoming class.
How to write a letter of recommendation
- 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.
- Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information such as a resume.
- Explain your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.
I have been teaching for twenty years and have advised approximately 450 students on independent research projects over the last five years.
I have personally supervised ten interns every summer for the last five years plus worked with over two hundred college graduates in my capacity as trainer for Big Bank Corp.
- Discuss how well you know the applicant and in what context.
I was able to get to know Justin because he made it a point to attend two of my sections every week when only one was required. Due to his keen intelligence, I also asked him to review an academic journal article I had nearly completed for his input. I found his comments and suggestions incisive and valuable.
Amanda was my student teacher in our middle school special needs program. In this capacity, I personally saw her dedication, patience, creativity, and eagerness to learn.
- Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant.
Jane has a rare blend of clear writing and interpersonal skills that are very helpful in this fast-changing and sometimes stressful environment.
The combination of tenacity, analytical abilities, and good communication that Taylor possesses is increasingly difficult to find among college students.
- 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.
Taylor is the only student I ever had who came to all my office hours as part of a relentless, and ultimately successful, drive to master financial theory. He was among the top ten percent in the class to receive an A.
Because of Jane’s writing skills, I didn’t hesitate to ask her to write a report which was used by our PAC as the basis for a major policy statement. Congressman X eventually used the statement, based on Jane’s sophisticated 20-page analysis of Middle East politics, in lobbying for increased funding.
- Try to quantify the student’s strengths or rank him or her vis a vis other applicants that you have observed.
He was in the top 10% of his class.
She has the best analytical skills of any person her age that I have ever supervised.
- Avoid generalities and platitudes that could be said about any number of people. The more specific the comments, the better.
- 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.
- Discuss the applicant’s potential in his or her chosen field.
I enthusiastically recommend Justin to your business school. This well-rounded student will become an astute and valuable professional in the financial services field.
With her exceptional leadership, writing, and quantitative skills, Jane will be an outstanding strategic consultant and a credit to the public policy program she attends.
We hope these tips have provided a vision for your LOR and will make this very important task easily manageable. However, if the prospect still seems daunting, consider purchasing Accepted’s Recommendation Letter Assistance Package. This full service can save you time while helping to highlight the applicant’s strengths with concrete and meaningful examples. We’ll provide all the help you need for one letter of recommendation that can be tailored for individual school programs.
By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• WATCH: How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation for Your MBA Application
• How Not to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
• 4 Tips for Securing Effective Recommendation Letters for PhD Admissions at Top Programs