Letters of recommendations come up at many stages of one's academic career. High school students seeking scholarships and college admission, college students seeking entry to graduate school or special programs, and established scholars seeking fellowships will all find themselves in need of letters recommendation.
Academic letters of recommendation are usually addressed to a specific person and often are include along with other application materials.
These letters should be written by someone who knows the person at least fairly well, including his or her academic history, personal traits and goals. For example: a professor or other faculty member, an advisor, a college administrator, a teacher and sometimes an employer-especially if the job or internship is related to the person's academic and career pursuits.
While test scores and school transcripts give one view of a student, a letter of recommendation is an opportunity to add new information and reveal the person behind the paperwork, which helps admissions officials, scholarship committees and so on determine if the application matches what they're looking for.
Academic letters of recommendation illustrate a student candidate's leadership skills, character, integrity, intellect, initiative, drive and readiness to excel amid myriad pressures. The best such reference letters present a picture of a student who is not one-dimensional but instead, well-rounded.
If you're writing an academic letter of recommendation, describe the person's character and skills. In an academic context, you might want to focus on ambition, passion for his or her field, leadership skills, dedication to coursework and so on. Whatever you mention, back it up with concrete examples, via anecdotes of how a student performed in class, on tests, in the lab and so on. Honors and awards could be mentioned, in the context of overall academic performance. Admissions committees want to see candidates who stand up from the crowd, so don't hesitate to use superlatives to describe the student. Was she the most organized in the class? Most willing to work as part of a team? Most curious? You can even quantify such statements: "Mary was in the top 5 percent of the class when it came to lab work." You may even be asked by a selection committee to literally rank the student.
Keep in mind that in some cases (mostly commonly in academic settings), letters of recommendation are confidential, meaning the person doesn't get to read it. Some might even include both negative and positive assessments of a candidate. If this is the case, references should be chosen with special care. However, some people believe that recommendation letter writers are actually more open and complimentary if they know the student won't see what he or she is writing.
Index of letter of recommendation templates