Here’s Michelle: “Your letter will be a combination of your own impressions and knowledge of the student and a synthesis of the information you have gathered from the student and other sources.”
How to begin:
Use a title: “Letter of Recommendation for John Doe”
Put the student’s name in the first sentence: “It is my great pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for John Doe.”
Suggestions for the first paragraph:
Write an anecdote. A story is always a great way to draw the reader in.
Write a summary of the student’s strengths. Introduce what is to follow in the body of the letter.
Write what first comes to mind when you think of the student.
Suggestions for body paragraphs:
Here’s Michelle: “The body of your letter is going to be determined by what information will be most helpful to an admissions counselor in determining if the college and the student will be a good fit. If you had the opportunity to read the student’s essay and teacher letter of recommendations, you will be able to choose the content of your body paragraphs to complement, but not repeat, what has already been written. Your goal is to provide MORE information. If soccer is the most important thing in a student’s life and the student already has a letter of recommendation from the soccer coach, it is acceptable not to mention soccer. It is important that the student’s application, and not your letter, be comprehensive.”
Character and Personality
Describing the student’s character and personality is helpful. Giving examples and telling stories that illustrate the student’s character and personality is golden.
It is not necessary to repeat the student’s activity list. Write what is unique about the student’s participation in activities. Do any themes emerge? Is the student a leader? Has the student tried many new things in an effort to figure out their interests? Is their interest in activities based on genuine interest rather than resume-building?
In general, the teacher letter of recommendation will discuss the student’s academic progress and abilities. If a student is an avid reader, write about what they like to read. If a student is a news junkie, mention it. These details are important and may not be discussed in the rest of the student’s application. The counselor letter of recommendation should also explain anything unique on the student’s transcript such as an exchange program or perhaps a reason why a student took a specific course. If there is a dip in grades on the student’s transcript, the counselor should explain the reason.
Admissions counselors will be interested in knowing if a student’s grades were affected by challenging circumstances such as death, divorce, illness and poverty. It is usually appropriate to mention adversity without giving too much detail. Focus on how the student coped with adversity and how the circumstance might affect the student in college.
How does the student interact with adults? Is the student a good friend? Does the student have a special relationship with a sibling? Is the student a leader? What kind of roommate will the student be?
Suggestions for the Conclusion:
Why will you miss the student?
What will the student offer their future campus community?
What is your prediction for the student’s success at college?
Finally, Michelle writes that the counselor letter of recommendation “should always be positive.” Even if you’ve had a poor experience with the student, focus on their good qualities. A short letter with a few truthful, positive words is perfectly okay.
Here’s Michelle: “Every student deserves the chance to grow and mature. Attending college is the change of environment that might just be what the student needs to turn their behavior and attitude around. The counselor letter is our chance to set students up for success.”
Sara Urquidez, executive director of Academic Success Program, has gathered a slate of strong counselor examples that work for different kinds of students. We’ve included them below: