How to Write a Recommendation Letter for College

Madelyn Goodnight © The Balance 

When a student applies for college, he or she will need at least one or two letters of recommendation from a high school teacher, or occasionally an employer. College admissions offices are looking for particular things in a student’s letters of recommendation.

Read below for advice on how to write a persuasive letter of recommendation for a student, plus review sample recommendation letters for college.

Advice for Writing a College Reference Letter

Think carefully about saying yes. Make sure you only agree to write the letter if you can write a positive recommendation. If you don’t think you can, tell the person you are not comfortable writing the recommendation. Here’s information on how to turn down a recommendation request.

If you feel you cannot write the letter, you might also consider pointing the student towards a teacher or administrator who might be a better fit.

Focus on the particular school. Ask the student for information on the school where he or she is applying. Try to focus on the student’s skills that relate to their ability to succeed at that school. Even if it is a more general letter, ask the person about the types of schools they’re hoping to attend. The letter you write for a student attending community college will be different than one you’d do for someone who plans to go to a state or private university.

Collect information. Ask the student for a copy of his or her resume, so that you can speak to the person’s experience. You might also consider meeting with them in-person, to get a better sense of their interests.

Mention how you know the student. At the beginning of the recommendation letter, explain how you know the student and state how long you’ve known them. If you’re a teacher, state how many courses he or she has taken with you. If you are an employer, describe the student’s role and their performance with your organization.

Include specific examples. In the letter, provide specific examples of ways in which the person has demonstrated various skills and qualities. Try to think of examples from when he or she was in your class or your company.

Remain positive. State that you think this student is a strong candidate for the school. You might say something like you “recommend this individual without reservation.” Emphasize this, especially at the beginning and end of the letter. After all, you want to help the student stand out.

Avoid clichés. There are many common clichés on student recommendation letters, including vague phrases like “hard worker” and “diligent student.” Make sure to avoid these clichés, and back up any statement with specific evidence.

Share your contact information. Provide a way for the school to contact you if they have further questions. Include your email address, telephone number, or both at the end of the letter.

Follow the submission guidelines. Ask the student how to submit the letter. Make sure you follow any requirements, especially about where to send it and when, as well as the format (for example, PDF, physical letter, etc.). Double-check the submission deadline so that there will be no question of not having your letter arrive on time.

College Recommendation Letter From a Teacher

You can use this recommendation letter sample as a model. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.

college reference sample

College Recommendation Letter From a Teacher (Text Version)

Dear XYZ College Admissions Committee,

I have known Beth Crawley for the past two years, having served as both her English teacher and her supervisor on the ABC High School newspaper. I believe Beth would be an excellent addition to XYZ College.

While a student at ABC High School, Beth has always challenged herself academically. She is an active participant in class discussions and grasps material quickly. She has superb written and verbal skills that are a pleasure for any teacher to encounter. Beth even tutors incoming high school freshmen who are struggling with their English courses.

Beth also excels in extracurricular activities. She has served as the features editor of our high school paper for the past two years and has written a number of insightful, thought-provoking articles. Her ability to delegate work to her assistant editors also reflects her organizational skills and strong leadership abilities.

Beth would bring so much to your school, both inside and outside of the classroom. If you have any questions regarding Beth's qualifications, please feel free to contact me at (555) 555-5555 or


Kara White

English Teacher and Department Chair
ABC High School

College Recommendation Letter From an Employer

Dear XYZ College Admissions Committee,

I highly recommend Peter Ballis as a candidate for XYZ College. I have served as Peter's supervisor in his capacity as a camp counselor at ABC Summer Camp for the past four years.

From serving as a counselor-in-training in eighth grade to being promoted to head counselor last year, I have watched Peter develop into a confident and capable leader.

Peter is extremely responsible; not only is he accountable for a group of fifteen children every summer, but, as head counselor, he also supervises the counselors-in-training and assists them with any issues they may have. On days when I am not on site, Peter is the counselor I know I can rely on to make sure the other counselors' days run smoothly. He is a natural leader who can always be counted on.

I am extremely impressed by Peter's organizational skills. Not only does he come up with detailed weekly schedules for his campers, but he also makes sure that his group arrives on time to every activity.

I know this ability to organize and budget time will serve him well in a college setting. Peter is an organized, intelligent, and capable young man who would be an excellent addition to your school. Feel free to contact me with any questions at (555) 555-5555 or


Madeleine Grimes