Tips for writing a great college recommendation letter

A young college candidate is sitting on a couch in an office. An older woman is sitting on a nearby couch, with a college recommendation letter on her lap, asking the young girl questions.
It's an honor to be asked to write a college
recommendation letter for a student, but it
also comes with a lot of responsibility.

We all know who needs college recommendation letters (wide-eyed students full of hopes/dreams/optimism). We all know who reads college recommendation letters (bleary-eyed admissions counselors full of cynicism/regret/doubt). But who writes college recommendation letters? The answer is anyone (managers/employers, business professionals, teachers, guidance counselors, clergy, community organizers, friends, and family); it's a tremendous honor to be asked but it's also very weighty. Along with their college admissions essay, your letter might be the factor that determines whether this individual fulfills their dreams.

Involve the potential student

It's a safe assumption that you will know the student that you are writing the college recommendation letter for, and you will have a relationship with that student, but there are many people in your life and it might be difficult to remember the specifics about that particular student. Ask that student to provide a list of their extracurricular activities and a copy of their transcript (if applicable). These will help you to reference specifics in your letter of recommendation.

The Introduction

Begin with the standard "To Whom It May Concern." The first line should provide the name of the person you are recommending. Next, state how long you have known the individual and in what context.

The Body

Admission counselors want to hear two things. They want to hear specific examples of the individual's personal qualities, leadership abilities, generosity, dedication, drive/ambition, and they want to know why this individual would be a good fit for their school. Bottom line: be specific. Sometimes it is helpful to review a college recommendation letter sample to see exactly how your letter could be formatted.


How do you end a college letter of recommendation? Nothing fancy, no bells, no whistles. The standard "If you have any questions about this individual, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 555-555-1234" is more than adequate. Bear in mind that a college recommendation letter full of spelling/grammatical errors reflects not only on you but on the individual that you are recommending. In order to avoid this, forward a copy of your letter to our business editors to ensure that you are representing yourself and the individual in the best way possible.


Learn how to write other kinds of letters! Check out How to Write a Letter, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon right now.

Ebook Cover

 Back to Advice and Articles

Article Types

Article Categories


Get free grammar tips straight to your inbox every week.


We respect your email privacy

RSS Feeds

BBB Accredited Business Quality Assurance - Scribendi is ISO 9001:2008 Certified  Norton Secured - This site uses SSL encryption to protect your data. Click to Verify - This site has chosen an SSL Certificate to improve Web site security Click to Verify - This site has chosen an SSL Certificate to improve Web site security