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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Student

As a high school teacher, there are always students that are looking for a summer job, a scholarship, or a leadership role. And when there are students looking for these things, there are students asking for letters of recommendation.

Now, the first time a student asked me to brag on them in a letter for a scholarship, I was cool, calm and collected on the outside and said, “Of course!” But on the inside, I was wondering how the heck I was going to write this thing. It hadn’t been that long ago that I was asking for these things myself! What should I include? What shouldn’t I include? Should I make it a general letter so they can use it for multiple scholarships or individualized for each scholarship they apply for?

Now, I’m only in my second year of teaching, but as an FFA Advisor, I’ve now written my fair share of these letters to help out my kids in whatever endeavor they are pursuing, so here are my tips for a beginner when it comes to writing a letter of recommendation.

Tip #1 – You DON’T have to say yes

Now, I get to know most of my students to the point where I can write a letter showcasing their best attributes to the best of my ability, but sometimes there are kids that I haven’t had in class that long, or honestly I don’t think would be the right person for the job they’re going after that ask for a letter. And if this is the case, it is okay to say no. Just explain your reasoning behind saying no and for the most part, kids are resilient and will understand and move on to the next teacher that they know better. You will probably feel bad, but it is all part of the process and it is what is best for the kid.

Tip #2 – Why are you qualified to write this letter?

In the first paragraph, I always try to explain who I am and my relationship to the student. An example could go something like this:

“It is my sincere pleasure to write this letter recommending Sally Sue as a recipient for your scholarship. I have had the opportunity to observe and get to know Sally for the better part of two years as her instructor and FFA Advisor.”

It doesn’t have to be an extensive reason as to why and how you know the student, just a little bit of background about how long you’ve known them and why you are a good source of information for this individual.

Tip #3 – Showcase a variety of skills and accomplishments

As a FFA Advisor, I often tend to lean towards my students accomplishments in FFA or in areas of agriculture, but I have found it is also important to look at the student as a whole, from their academics, to their job experience, to their attendance. If the student you are writing for has never missed a day of school or gotten a tardy, that is a great thing to include! This will show the employer, scholarship committee, or group leader that they are dependable which is an incredibly important trait. Personality should also be taken into account. Here is an example from a letter of recommendation I wrote recently for a student (name has been changed) who has an incredibly good attitude and infectious happy personality:

“Sally has a strong leadership style and an infectiously positive attitude that inspires people to follow her example.”

If a student’s good attitude is part of the reason they are qualified for the position at hand, why not include it?

Tip #4 – Showcase a specific situation where they shone

Typically, in an interview, the interviewee is asked about specific situations where they excelled in a certain trait. This can be utilized quite nicely in a recommendation letter as well. If you’re a coach, what is a situation where they showed leadership or compassion on the field? If you’re an advisor of an extracurricular activity, have they taken a younger student under their wing and mentored them? If you only see them in class, what is a project or activity that they have gone above and beyond on? Pick specific situations that will showcase their best qualities and explain why it was such a great moment.

Tip #5 – Have a strong closing statement

Just like in any paper, end your letter on a strong note that leaves the reader with the best sense of why they would be lucky to have this person be their employee or receive their scholarship. Here are a few examples for reference:

“As Sally’s agriculture instructor of two years, I recommend Sally for this scholarship without reservation and feel you would find no better candidate to invest your organization’s money in.”

“I feel that you would be fortunate to find a candidate with much integrity and tenacity as Sally.”

“I have no doubt that Sally will make an outstanding employee, and I share her excitement over this next venture.”

What are your best tips for writing a killer recommendation letter for your students? Leave them below!  

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