Category Archives: College recommendation

Write an Excellent College Recommendation. Step 2.


Introduction: Mention how long you have known the student and in which classes you have taught him/her. Also include the clubs/sports/other activities in which you have worked with the
student outside the classroom. Demonstrate that you know this student well. Your feelings for him/her should be reflected in your word choice. If there are any circumstances that may have affected the student’s performance in your class, mention them. Above all, be genuine.

Body: Give concrete, detailed examples of the student’s work in your class and extra-curricular activities. Be sure to refer to academics, activities and character. Colleges are looking for diverse
students who will excel academically as well as contribute actively to student life. Your job is to convince the school what the student can offer, based on his/her performance in your class and extra-curricular activities. Mention not only strengths but also how the student dealt with setbacks or challenges.

Conclusion: Sum up the student’s overall impression on you. Reiterate the qualities that will convince the admissions officer that this student is ready to embrace the rigors of academic work and the joys of college life.



______ _______ is an outstanding member of a class that fairly brims with excellent students. Over the past three years, she has consistently ranked among the top 5% of the class of 20__,
having first come to my attention when she won a school-wide Shakespearean Sonnet Contest as a ninth grader. I have had the pleasure of teaching her in Honors English 10 and in AP English
Language and Composition as well as working with her on the literary magazine in her junior year. An extremely well-rounded student, ______ excels in all academic areas. While her first
love is science and her future plans include medicine, she is just as committed to the arts, and she is one of the strongest writers I have taught in over 30 years. Dedicated to community service,
_______ heads the Orphanage Division of our chapter of Roots & Shoots. Modest almost to a fault, _______ attributes her outstanding performance to assiduousness and perseverance. She sets goals each semester and does everything humanly possible to achieve them. While her junior year was especially hard because her father died of cancer, she soldiered on.


I have taught ______ _______ for two years, in Honors English 10 and in AP English Language and Composition. A quiet, even-tempered young man, _______ has worked very hard to maintain a B average in these demanding English courses. His writing is still occasionally
plagued by syntax, diction, and subject-verb agreement problems; however, this is not surprising, for even as an adolescent, ______ was taking Extra English classes to perfect his language skills.
His progress over the past two years has been rapid because he is highly intelligent, very diligent and eager to improve his performance. In my long experience of teaching students for whom
English is a second or third language, I have observed that lingering EFL issues generally tend to disappear once students begin university work. Outside class, I worked with _______ mainly in his capacity as Business Manager of our award-winning literary magazine, which I sponsor.

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Write an Excellent College Recommendation. Step 1.


When you have agreed to write a recommendation letter for a student, direct the student to fill out the information form (see below) and to email the responses to you. I attach this form to my course website and tell students to download it. From the beginning, they must take a certain amount of responsibility in the recommendation process. They may also print out their responses, but a digital version is required. Students must also supply you with samples of graded work that they would like you to mention in the letter.

Done right, responding to these questions requires a substantial investment of time and thought. Ultimately, everyone wins: the teacher has concrete material to work with (and much more detailed “reminders” of the student’s performance than relying on memory alone) and the students have articulated their strengths and challenges as learners.

NOTE: I tell students that I expect them to tick the box on the application forms that waives their right to see my letter before it is submitted. I tell them that if I have agreed to recommend them, that I am therefore going to advocate for them!


DIRECTIONS: Email me a digital copy of your responses to the questions below. Then deliver the HARD copies of the marked-up papers to which you would like me to refer (see #4). The more detail
you provide, the better. Be realistic, be honest and be specific! I must have BOTH the responses and the papers before I write the letter.

DATE the letter is due to the college counselor:_____________________

University/College(s)to which you are applying:

Are you applying for early decision or early action? If so, to which school?

Probable major (indicate subject area or “undecided”):


1. What do you plan to do with your life, and how will the schools to which you are applying help you achieve your goals? Why do you consider yourself a strong candidate or a good match for the schools to which you are applying? (1-3 pghs.)

2. Why am I a good choice of teacher to write a recommendation letter for YOU? (1-3 sentences)

3. What FIVE (5) adjectives describe you best? (5 words)

4. VERY IMPORTANT: What projects or papers done in my classes are you most proud of? Give me the assessed hard copies of two or three of them and write a paragraph about each piece of work explaining WHAT it reveals about your work ethic and yourself as a writer/presenter/team member (etc.).

5. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a student, a writer (if not mentioned in #4) and an individual? (2-4 pghs.)

6. What contributions do you make to the life of the school and/or the community? Have you distinguished yourself in ways I may not be aware of? Is there anything else you would like me to know or include, something about you that is not requested on any of your application forms, something that will make YOU stand out from the crowd? (2-4 pghs.)

7. CLUBS: If you are or were a member of any of the clubs/activities I sponsor, discuss your participation and explain how you have grown as a result. (1-2 pghs.)

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How to Write an Excellent College Recommendation

I have spent most of my teaching career outside the United States teaching in private American International schools. For the most part, my students have represented very high achievers, the cream of the crop. You might think it easy to write recommendation letters for top students, but in reality it can be quite daunting.

Top students apply to top schools. Once their GPAs and scores on standardized tests qualify them for their dream school, it is left to the students’ personal statements and teacher recommendation letters to distinguish them from the thousands of others who are just like them.

While my method will not guarantee an acceptance, I know that my letters contain the kind of information the college admissions officers want to see. They are specific and carefully written. College
counselors and college recruiters who have seen my letters have told me so and held my letters up as exemplars for my colleagues. I have even received a letter from an admissions officer (Princeton) thanking me for the way I presented an individual student (who got only as far as the wait list), reassuring me that teacher letters of recommendation are read very carefully. I have saved that letter and have never forgotten how important my letters can be.

Over the years I have devised a system of information gathering and writing that works well for me. I am an English teacher, but the procedure I discuss in these pages is effective no matter what subject you teach.

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