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The Art Of Recommendation Letters For University Applications

Published by at January 12th, 2024 , Revised On May 13, 2024

Navigating university applications can be challenging, but one element often underestimated in its importance is the recommendation letter. This seemingly straightforward document can significantly amplify your application, making it essential to get it right. Mastering the art of recommendation letters can be the key that unlocks the door to your dream university.

What Is A Recommendation Letter?

A recommendation letter, often referred to as a letter of recommendation, is a formal document in which the writer assesses the capabilities, qualities, and characteristics of the person being recommended in terms of their ability to perform a particular function or task. It’s a third-party endorsement that provides a character reference for a jobseeker, student, or other individuals.

Here are the key components and purposes of a recommendation letter:

Introduction of the Writer

The letter typically starts with the introduction of the person writing the recommendation. This includes their position, their relation to the individual being recommended, and the duration for which they have known the person.

Purpose of the Letter

This section clarifies why the letter is being written, whether for a job application, university admission, scholarship, or any other purpose.

Details about the Individual

This is the core of the recommendation letter. In letter format, the writer provides specific details about the individual’s abilities, qualifications, strengths, and accomplishments. Examples and anecdotes can be used to give a clearer picture of the individual’s character and work ethic.

Comparison with Peers

Often, the writer will compare the recommended individual to their peers. This provides context and indicates where the person stands relative to others in a similar role or position.

Personal Qualities

Apart from professional or academic qualifications, the writer may also speak about the individual’s personal traits, such as reliability, dedication, teamwork, and leadership.


In the conclusion, the writer will explicitly recommend the individual for the position or opportunity they are seeking. This is a summary of the endorsement and a reiteration of the individual’s suitability.

Contact Details of the Writer

At the end of the letter, the writer typically provides their contact information in case the reader has any further questions or requires clarification.


The letter is formally closed with the writer’s signature, name, and often the date.

Understanding The Role Of Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters play a pivotal role in shaping perceptions about an individual’s capabilities and character, often swaying decisions in contexts like academic admissions, job applications, and award nominations. 

Serving as third-party endorsements, these letters provide insights that grades, resumes, or personal statements might miss. They delve into an applicant’s interpersonal skills, work ethic, and potential, offering a multifaceted view that is drawn from personal interactions and firsthand observations. 

Universities and employers value these testimonials as they provide an external validation of an applicant’s suitability for a program or position. Essentially, recommendation letters bridge the gap between an applicant’s self-presentation and an external perspective, helping decision-makers get a more comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s fit and promise.

Choose Your Recommenders Wisely

  • Establish a connection: Aim to foster relationships with your teachers, mentors, or supervisors throughout your academic journey. A meaningful relationship will result in a more genuine and personalised recommendation.
  • Relevance matters: Choose individuals who can speak directly about your abilities related to your intended field of study. For instance, if you’re applying for a physics program, a recommendation from your physics teacher or a research mentor in the same domain would be particularly impactful.
  • Balancing quality and title: While a known name or a prestigious title might sound appealing, what truly counts is the quality and depth of the content. A heartfelt recommendation from a teacher who knows you well might weigh more than a generic letter from someone with a big title.

Equip Your Recommenders

Even the most well-meaning recommenders can benefit from some guidance.

  • Provide context: Share the courses or programs you’re applying to and explain why you’re passionate about them. This will help your recommender tailor their letter to align with your aspirations.
  • Offer reminders: Without being boastful, offer a list of your achievements, projects, or specific incidents that the recommender might include in the letter. It will make their task easier and ensure that significant accomplishments aren’t overlooked.
  • Formatting and guidelines: Every university might have its specific requirements. Make sure your recommender is aware of any format or content guidelines.

Timing is Everything

  • Start early: The best recommendation letters are not rushed. Allow your recommenders ample time to reflect and compose their thoughts.
  • Set a personal deadline: Instead of giving your recommender the final deadline, set a deadline a couple of weeks earlier. This will give you a buffer in case of any unforeseen circumstances.

How to Write A Recommendation Letters?

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A Structured Approach

While the content of the letter is primarily in the hands of the recommender, understanding the typical structure can help guide them:


This should identify the recommender, their relationship to you, and the duration they’ve known you.

Academic Capabilities

Here, the recommender can discuss your academic strengths, unique qualities, and how you compare to your peers.

Personal Qualities

This section can touch on characteristics like perseverance, leadership, teamwork, or any anecdotes that exemplify your qualities.


A strong concluding paragraph reinforces the recommender’s endorsement, ideally with a ringing endorsement of your fit for the university and program of choice.

Waiving Your Rights

Most universities allow students to waive their rights to view recommendation letters. Waiving your right indicates trust in your recommender and can add more credibility to their endorsement.

Express Gratitude

Remember, your recommenders are doing you a favour. Regardless of the outcome, ensure you express your appreciation for their time and effort. A handwritten thank-you note, or a thoughtful email, goes a long way.

Follow Up

Keep your recommenders in the loop about your application journey. Whether you got accepted, waitlisted, or decided to pursue another opportunity, they would appreciate knowing the outcome. It keeps them invested in your journey and might prove useful in future endeavours.

Sample Recommendation Letter

[Your Name]
[Your Title/Position]
[Your Institution/Organization]
[Your Email Address]
[Today’s Date]

Admissions Committee
[University Name]
[University Address]
[City, Zip Code]

Dear Admissions Committee, I am writing to strongly recommend [Applicant’s Full Name] for admission to the [Specific Program] at [University Name]. As [Applicant’s] [Your Relationship, e.g., “teacher” or “supervisor”] for the past [X years/months], I have been consistently impressed by their dedication, intellectual curiosity, and drive. In the

[Course/Project/Program], [Applicant’s First Name] demonstrated exceptional proficiency in [specific skills or area]. One instance that particularly stands out to me is when [Applicant’s First Name] [describe a specific anecdote showcasing their skill, dedication, or a particular achievement]. This was no easy task, but [Applicant’s First Name]’s commitment ensured its success.

Compared to peers, [Applicant’s First Name] consistently ranks in the top [X%], not just due to their academic prowess but also their collaborative spirit and leadership abilities. They are respected by both their peers and faculty, always willing to go the extra mile to support others.

In conclusion, I am confident that [Applicant’s Full Name] would be a valuable asset to the [Specific Program] at [University Name]. Their dedication, intelligence, and positive attitude will no doubt contribute significantly to your academic community. I wholeheartedly recommend them for admission and am confident they will excel in their future academic endeavours.

Should you have any further questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact me at [Your Email Address] or [Your Phone Number].

[Your Full Name]
[Your Title/Position]

Final Thoughts

Recommendation letters serve as a mirror, reflecting not just your academic and personal achievements but also your impact on those around you. When curated with care and authenticity, they can be powerful allies in your university application process.

By mastering the art of recommendation letters, you are ensuring a stronger application and deepening the connections with those who believe in your potential. As you embark on this journey, remember that every recommendation, like every chapter in your academic story, is a testament to your dedication, aspirations, and the promise of what lies ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Start with your association with the individual.
  • Highlight their key strengths.
  • Offer a specific example of their capability.
  • Conclude by endorsing them for their desired position.
  • Approach the person politely.
  • Briefly state the purpose (job, school).
  • Mention why you believe they’re a suitable reference.
  • Offer relevant details or experiences you would like highlighted.
  • Provide a deadline, and thank them for considering.
  • State your relationship (e.g., student, colleague).
  • Highlight their academic expertise and contributions.
  • Mention their teaching prowess or mentorship qualities.
  • Recall a memorable collaboration or impact.
  • Conclude with a strong endorsement for their desired role or accolade.
  • Begin by stating your teacher-student relationship.
  • Emphasise their academic achievements and strengths.
  • Provide an anecdote showcasing their character or skills.
  • Mention extracurriculars or leadership roles.
  • Conclude with confidence in their potential.

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