Successful graduate school applications are accompanied by several, usually three, recommendation letters. Most of your graduate admissions letters will be written by your professors. The best letters are written by professors who know you well and can relay your strengths and promise for graduate study. Below is an example of a helpful recommendation letter for admission to graduate school.
Effective recommendation letters include, at minimum:
- An explanation of the context in which the student is known (classroom, advisee, research, etc.)
- The evaluation
- Data to support the evaluation. Why is the student a good bet? What indicates that he or she will be a competent graduate student and, eventually, professional? A letter that does not provide details to support statements about the candidate is not helpful.
What to Write
Below is a template to help you organize your ideas as you compose a student's letter of recommendation. Section headers/explanations are in bold [don't include these in your letter].
Attention: Admissions Committee [if a specific contact is provided, address as indicated]
I am writing to you in support of [Student Full Name] and [his/her] desire to attend [University Name] for the [Program Title] program. Though many students ask me to make this request on their behalf, I only recommend students whom I feel are well-suited for the program of their choice. [Student Full Name] is one of those students. I highly [recommend, recommend without hesitation - as appropriate] [he/she] be given the opportunity to attend your university.
Context in Which You Know the Student
As Professor of Biology at University Name, for X years, I have encountered many students in my classroom and lab [edit as appropriate]. Only a small handful of outstanding students offer a unique perspective and really embrace their learning of the subject matter. [Student Name] has consistently shown promise and commitment, as indicated below.
I first met StudentName in my [Course Title] course during the [Season and Year] semester. Compared to the class average of [Class Average], [Mr./Ms. Last Name] earned a [Grade] in the class. [Mr./Ms. Last Name] was evaluated on [explain basis for grades, e.g., exams, papers, etc.], in which [he/she] performed exceptionally well.
Illustrate the Student's Competencies
Though StudentName has consistently exceeded in all areas of [his/her] coursework, the best example of [his/her] promise is indicated in a [paper/presentation/project/etc.] on [work's title]. The work clearly showed [his/her] ability to deliver a clear, concise and well-thought presentation with a new perspective by demonstrating.... [embellish here].
[Provide additional examples, as appropriate. Examples that illustrate research skills and interests as well as ways in which you have worked closely with the student are particularly useful. This section is the most important part of your letter. What can your student contribute to the graduate program and professors with whom she may work? Why is she exceptional - with support?]
StudentName continues to impress me with [his/her] knowledge, skill and dedication to [his/her] work. I’m sure you will find [him/her] to be a highly motivated, competent, and committed student who will grow into a successful professional [edit as appropriate- indicate why]. In closing, I highly recommend [recommend without reservation; highest recommendation; add as appropriate] Student Full Name for admission to the [Graduate Program] at [University]. Please feel free to contact me if you require further information.
Recommendation letters are written with a specific student in mind. There is no generic grad school recommendation letter. Consider the above as a guide as to the sort of information to include as you write recommendation letters but tailor the content, organization, and tone for the particular student at hand.