As a teacher, you’ve probably been asked to write a letter of recommendation a time or two. For most, it’s an awkward process and always feels difficult to get into the swing of it. Unless you’re a seasoned vet, you probably do not have a ton of experience with student recommendations letters, so I’m here to help. There are certain things you want to include and consider when recommending a student to an organization, job, or college. Take a look at the list below before jumping into your next round of letters and see if it helps!

The decision

The most important part of writing the recommendation does not involve writing at all. When a student approaches you for a recommendation, consider these things before saying immediately saying yes.

  • Do you know them well?

Ask yourself if you know the student well enough to write a convincing letter of recommendation. Sure, no matter how well you know a student, you might need to clarify some details. If it’s going to take more work to learn about the student than it will be to write the letter, you probably are not the best candidate to write for them. In this instance, politely tell them that you don’t feel confident that you know them well enough to do so. Then, suggest another teacher who may know them on a more personal level than you do.

  • Do you have the time?

These letters are not going to write themselves. It’s going to take some time and effort to accomplish, so make sure you actually have the time before committing to them. You might have too many on your plate already or simply not have the time to devote to writing a proper letter. It’s better to be honest than stretch yourself thin.

Writing Process

Now that you’ve made a commitment, it’s time to get down to business. No matter how well you know a particular student, you’re still going to need more information.You don’t want to put down the wrong college or talk about a major they have no interest in pursuing. Sit down with them and make sure your understanding of what they want is in line with what they need from you. Get all the facts and make yourself a little cheat sheet. Basically, you want to know their goals and their achievements to highlight within the letter.

Begin the letter by stating your relationship with the student. Did you have them as a student or were you an advisor to a club they were in? This will provide the reader with context and shows how you’ve come to know them well enough to recommend them.

The second section goes into more detail about the student and the work you directly saw them accomplish. This is the section to give detail and evidence for their work ethic and grasp of subject matter. Stay away from being too vague, because it comes off like you don’t know the student very well.

Focus the next section on the student’s characteristics. Explain what makes them tick and provide examples. Think of this section as a discussion of one or two soft skills that the students has a good handle on. Finally, summarize and circle back to the main reasons this particular student stands out from the pack.