During the college admissions season each year, high school teachers in the region and counsellors are often asked to write letters of recommendation for their students. For us-bound high school seniors from the middle east, these letters are an important part of a holistic college admissions process that places great importance on every aspect of the student’s application. Including solid letters of recommendation in the application aids admissions officers in determining that a student is capable of doing university- level work and whether or not he or she will be a contributor on campus and in the classroom. These letters have to be formulaic in nature, in order to cover key elements of a student’s academic achievement, extracurricular activities and personality. Strong letters significantly increase students’ chances of admission, while weak, general letters detract from the overall admissions application.
Here are the Top 5 Tips for writing the perfect recommendation letter:
State how you know the student and in what context.
Begin the letter describing your relationship with the student. Is he a top student in your class? Team captain of a sports team you coach? Do you know him or her in your role as a mentor or guidance counsellor? How long have you known him or her? Describe the environment in which you know the student to provide context for the overall letter.
Talk about the student’s unique abilities and personality. Show you know the student very well!
Does the student have a special talent? What makes that particular student different from the rest of your students? Was there ever a time when he or she went the extra mile for a project or her classmates? All students have something unique about them. Three or four colourful sentences will help your prospective college student stand out from the crowd.
Tell a short story about what makes the student especially suited for college.
Strong recommendation letters all have an element of storytelling that captures the attention of weary admissions officers reviewing application after application into the wee hours of the morning. What short story can you tell about the student that will highlight the student’s strengths and achievements? Did he or she do something out of the ordinary? Take initiative in class or outside the classroom? Show leadership?
Detail the student’s academic strengths and achievements, citing specific examples of work.
This is the place to discuss specific examples of a student’s academic work. What subject did you teach the student? Did the student consistently score highly on exams? Did the student demonstrate creativity in a class project? Is the student a team player and does he or she collaborate well in group work? This section of the letter should clearly articulate the student’s readiness for college level academics.
Suggest how the student will contribute to the college or university outside of the classroom.
Admissions application reviewers are also interested in how prospective students will give back. Students who have a solid track record of service to school and community will quite naturally be likely to continue their service while in university. Be sure to write a sentence or two about how you envision your student contributing to campus life, and even whether or not you believe the student will become one of the university’s pre-eminent alumni.
Finally, make sure to state clearly in the final paragraph that you are “highly recommending” the student for that particular college and degree programme, and to give his or her application for admission “serious consideration”. Your time and effort spent writing strong letters of recommendation will be repaid in seeing your students reach their first big goal in life that will open many doors to a brighter future.
By Dr Kerrin Barrett – Guest Contributor