How To Write A Recommendation Letter For Graduate School

Writing a recommendation letter for graduate school admission is both a privilege and a responsibility. It is an honor to be chosen to write one for your student and it is a responsibility because it may make or break the application of the candidate.

However, having a good recommendation letter makes it less daunting. Here are the steps in writing a good one:


recommendation letter for graduate school


Letter of Recommendation

All graduate school programs require their applicants to submit a recommendation letter together with the other requirements like the application form and grades. Usually, most schools require 3 recommendation letters from people who know the applicant personally and professionally.

The purpose of the letter is to give the admissions committee an assessment of the candidate’s competence, ability and potential for graduate school.



Thinking about it

If a student asks you to write a recommendation letter for graduate school for him/her, think about it twice.

If you don’t think you know the student well, or you don’t think you can give positive letter on his/her behalf, then you might as well not do so. Just tell the applicant the reason(s) for your reservations and politely refuse.

If the applicant insists, then write a neutral letter and include whatever negative evaluations you have. Remember to be honest, because although you are not the applicant, your credibility is on the line when you write letters of recommendation.



Information on student

So now you’ve agreed to write a letter of recommendation. There are information about the student that you need to gather before you start to write. These are the information that you need to evaluate the student. Here are some examples:


  •  Motivation– It takes more than intelligence and academic abilities to make it in graduate school. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.
  • Skills – May include computer skills, communication skills, problem solving skills and other academic skills.
  •  Related work experience- May include extracurricular activities and clubs joined by the applicant, volunteer work, professional work (as colleague or assistant).
  • Awards and achievements– Include also sample works, exams with grades, research work or term papers.
  • Transcript of records-  grades do matter as much as other qualifications do.
  • Resume– list the personal data and information of the candidate


It might even be useful if you can get a short talk or interview with the applicant, even if you already know him/her well so that you can get these and other information that you might need to assess the candidate in the program he/she applied for.



Writing the letter

Before writing the letter, it is best if you could go over the application materials for the graduate program. Reading the university materials will give you an idea of what the school and admissions committee is looking for. That is what you’ll have to target in your letter.

Now is the time to organize your thoughts and evaluate the information that you’ve gathered earlier. It’s time to write.

Tell a story about the candidate. Don’t just enumerate her qualifications and abilities. Write about the candidate as a whole person using personal experiences and actual events.

 What has the candidate accomplished? What did he/she do to accomplish them? Compare the candidate with other students that you know. What makes he/she best qualified for the program?

Be specific by using examples to bolster your positive statements about the applicant.

Discuss and emphasize the applicant’s strong attributes.

What are her strengths? Again, give specific examples. Universities receive hundreds of applications for graduate school. Let them know what makes yours standout. What is the X-factor of the applicant you are writing for?

Avoid ambiguity in your language and omit flowery words. Don’t just use vague terms like “hard-working” and “diligent”. These words are in the recommendation letters of other students. Instead, give actual situations or events when the applicant was hard working and diligent. Give concrete examples to support these traits.




For some colleges, you might want to check their website if there are specific guidelines to be followed in writing a recommendation letter for graduate school.

There may be forms, formats and other letter requirements that are required on a per school basis. The complete and correct addressee is also stated at the websites. You can also determine how to submit the letter, whether it is online or postal mail. Most importantly, check the deadline for the submission of the letter.




The 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA permits students to view and read letters of recommendation for admission to schools.

However, the law also allows the student to waive this right thru a waiver  which he/she must voluntarily sign. So before writing the letter, you must also determine if the recommendation letter you are writing is confidential to the applicant or not.

Your letter is in great shape and is ready for submission. With everything in order, wish your candidate the best of luck. Well, it isn’t really luck that makes it: It’s a combination of the candidate’s qualifications and a good pitching job by your recommendation letter.

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