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Each year, we receive requests for guidelines about what should be included in the letters of recommendation which many faculty and staff are asked to write for students. The following information may be helpful as you approach this task.

  • Identify the student and the capacity in which you came to know him or her. If the contact was primarily through having the student in class(es), please give the course name(s), not just the number(s).
  • Give as much evidence as possible of the student's increased knowledge, maturity, understanding of material or other aspects of development during the period you knew him or her.
  • Future employers as well as graduate schools will be evaluating candidates on the basis of the following factors, among others:
    • communication skills (written and oral)
    • willingness to take initiative
    • level of motivation
    • planning and organizational skills
    • technical or professional knowledge or skills
    • flexibility/adaptability
    • interpersonal skills
    • willingness to accept responsibility/leadership
    • analytical/problem-solving ability
    • group interaction and team-working skills


Any information you can give to support the student's candidacy with reference to these attributes would be helpful.

Avoid potentially discriminatory references (race, religion, national origin, marital status, age, etc.).

Accent the positive and try to qualify any negative statements with evidence of the ways in which a student is dealing with the problem. If you feel you cannot give a positive recommendation, it is best to let the student know!

Ask the student to provide you with a copy of his or her resume. This will give you an overview of the student's accomplishments in work situations or activities outside the classroom which you may use to enhance your comments. Also, it would be helpful if you asked the student to share his or her career goals with you. This could strengthen your comments.


Sample Reference Letter

Below is a suggested format for reference letters. The bracketed words are suggested options to use when applicable to your particular letter.






If written to a specific employer: I am writing this reference letter at the request of [student] who is applying for the position of [job title] with your [firm, company, school, etc.]

If written to whom it may concern: I am writing this reference letter at the request of [student]. S/he has asked me to write this general letter which s/he may show to any prospective employer who asks him/her for references.

If letter is confidential: This is a confidential letter and should be shared only with people in your firm who are directly involved in the hiring decision. This letter should not be shown to [student] who waived the right to see the letter.


I have known [student] for [length of time] in my capacity as a [your job title] at [your employer]. If Applicable: [student] worked for me as a [job title]. or [student] belonged to the [club or organization] for which I served as an advisor. or [student] took [number] courses from me, including [names]. [Student] earned grades of [list grades], respectively, in those courses. Based on [student's] grades, along with his/her [excellent, good, etc.] attendance and class participation, I'd rate [students] performance in my class as [rating].


[Student] has a number of strengths to offer [an employer, a graduate program]. List qualities here, backing each one up with examples. Try to pick qualities that tie into the specific type of job student is seeking or requested on the grad school application. EXAMPLE: "[Student] often exhibited excellent leadership in my class, volunteering to lead groups and then organizing the group's project quickly and efficiently. This attribute would serve [student] well in the position of [job title] with your company."


In conclusion, I would [highly] recommend [student]. If his/her performance in my class(es) is any indication of how she/he'd perform [on the job, in graduate school, etc.], [student] will be a positive addition to your [firm, college, etc.].

Sincerely yours,