Work Smarter: Writing the Perfect Recommendation Letter

by Olivia Barker

Between advising a programming board, the local chapter of my sorority and working with over 300 student organizations, I end up writing tons of recommendation letters each semester. I love that my students feel like I can speak well on them as a leader, their ambition and their commitment to success, but writing a unique letter for so many different students can be really difficult. After 4 years of writing recommendation letters, I finally came up with a way to write a great letter, while having my students put in a little work too!

When I agree to write a student a recommendation letter, I always ask them to provide me with some information…the who, what, when, where and whys. If they request a recommendation through email, I have them send the information back to me and if they ask in person, I just jot down their answers when we chat, this way, I have all the information I need in one document.

Here are the questions that have helped me to work smarter when writing the perfect recommendation letter:

  • Who do I send the recommendation letter to? Have students provide the person’s name, title, university and department. I will not write a recommendation if all I have is “To Whom It May Concern.”
  • What is this recommendation letter for? I have the student tell me a little about the opportunity to make sure I have the information I need and they understand what they are applying for. I also ask what qualities the program is looking for in an individual and try to incorporate those qualities in the recommendation letter.
  • When is the recommendation letter due? I like to have a solid due date, so I can send letters early! Twice this semester I mailed hard copies of recommendation letters to two different institutions and they were not received. Because I sent them so early, my students were able to follow up and I was able to send a new letter. This can be tough if your student does not give you enough notice. In that case, I send a hard copy and email a scanned version.
  • Where do I send the reference letter? Address, campus department number and/or email address. Last fall, one of my students was applying for 8 graduate school programs and she stamped and addressed the envelopes herself. She told me she really valued the time I would put into writing her letters, so she wanted to help as much as possible. That was awesome!
  • Why are you applying for this opportunity? I use this information to actually write the letter. I have my students tell me why they are a good fit for this opportunity, how their past experiences have prepared them and how they will use this in the future. 

If you have these answers and your student’s resume, you should be able to write the perfect recommendation letter. You have to work hard before you can work smart, so spend some time thinking about how you can simplify certain tasks. By working smarter, you will have more time to develop the relationships that lead to these recommendation letter requests!

Student Affairs - the First Years

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  1. Thanks for a nice guide. I think when a person needs such a letter, he can write main thoughts and then hire writers for do a perfect piece of writing.

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  3. Perfect educational writing paper is a challenging task for most of the students. you can easily help from for your increase writing skill.


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