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professor writing recommendation letter for a student

When a student is applying to study for a master’s degree or a PhD, they are almost always asked to submit one or two letters of recommendation from their professors. These letters serve to attest to the student’s academic ability. Recommendation letters are, thus, an important part of a student’s application for university programmes. 


In this blog post, we’ve provided a detailed guide to how to write a strong recommendation letter for your students and a sample recommendation letter. 


Recommendation Letter VS Reference Letter

Before we dive into writing a recommendation letter for a student, we should first take a look at what it is. By definition, a letter of recommendation for a student is a letter which supports the student’s application to study in a programme or a scholarship. In it, you detail the reasons that you believe the student is a suitable candidate for a particular position or opportunity.  


You might also have heard of the term reference letter for a student. Although recommendation letters and reference letters are similar and often used interchangeably, differences exist between them. A recommendation letter for a student is requested for admission into a specific academic programme, whereas a reference letter for a student concerns an overall and more general assessment of a student and their character. 


Who to write a Recommendation Letter for

You might receive requests for letters of recommendation from various students. While it’s true a recommendation letter can strengthen an application, it can also backfire.  


Some students might be tempted to ask the chair of the department or a renowned scholar who doesn’t know them well to write a letter of recommendation for them.  

But if they have never taken classes with the chair or the scholar, the recommendation letter would only arouse suspicion from the admission committee. The admission committee have the student’s transcript and know the courses and modules the student has taken. 


The best letter of recommendation comes from professors or teachers that know the student more closely. Before you agree to write a letter of recommendation for a student, think it over carefully.  


The students you should write a recommendation letter for: 

  • Students who have taken your classes 
  • Students who have assisted your research  
  • Students whose projects you supervised  
  • Students who you mentored 

Most importantly, you should write a recommendation letter for someone whose potential and ability you genuinely believe in. If you receive requests for a letter of recommendation from students you don’t know well, you direct them to other professors, instructors or teachers. 


How to write a Letter of Recommendation

When you are writing a recommendation letter for a student, there are certain elements to include: 

  • Greeting  
  • Introductory paragraph 
  • Body paragraphs  
  • Closing  
  • Sing-off 


The greeting is pretty straightforward. You can simply write down ‘To Whom It May Concern’, ‘Dear Admission Committee’ or ‘Dear Admission Board’ as it is unlikely the names of people on the committee would be revealed.  


Introductory paragraph

The introductory paragraph of a recommendation letter is crucial. In a space of a few sentences, you need to:  

  • Introduce yourself as an academic 
  • Explain your relationship with the student 
  • State that you believe the student deserves a place in the programme 

Letting the admission board know who you are as a scholar or researcher is of great significance. Your recommendation letter will be more credible when the committee learn about your expertise and hence your ability to gauge a student.   

However, that is not enough to convince the committee. You also need to show that you truly know the student. To do it effectively, you can mention the title of the courses the student has taken with you and specify the number of years you taught them. If the student used to work with you on your research project, mention its name and for how long they assisted you.  

Lastly, the purpose of a recommendation letter is to strengthen a student’s application for a university programme, so at the end of the introductory paragraph, voice your support.  


Body paragraphs 

The body paragraphs are where you can elaborate on why your student is a great candidate for the master’s degree or PhD programme in the letter of recommendation. There are a few ways you can help the admission committee to have a better understanding of the student’s academic ability and character: 

  • Describe the student’s academic performance in relevant courses 
  • Demonstrate the student’s potential 
  • Highlight the student’s enthusiasm for the field  
  • Show the student’s positive traits 

The best way to write a strong academic recommendation letter for a student is to include various examples and personal stories to corroborate your statement. When describing the student’s performance in subjects relevant to the programme they’re applying for, don’t just write down their marks. The admission committee already have the transcript for that. Instead, highlight their academic excellence with details such as how their papers stood out in the recommendation letter.  

Another quality the admission committee value in a student is their potential. You can demonstrate that by elaborating on the growth in the student you witnessed over the years. For example, you can detail the student’s improvement during a particular course; they might have struggled at the beginning of the term but handed in a final paper of great quality.  

Studying for a postgraduate degree is not easy. The passion for a discipline can motivate the student to complete the programme. The admission committee are, thus, more interested in students who are enthusiastic about the subject. To prove your student is passionate about the field, you can mention the number of relevant courses they’ve taken. You can also discuss the projects related to the subject that they initiated themselves. Show that the student is eager to gain more knowledge in the field. 

The admission board are also looking for students who can benefit the community and the school. You can vouch for the student’s potential to do so by illustrating their positive qualities, such as determination and willingness to help, and their contributions to your school. In the letter of recommendation, you can use examples of the student’s experience in:  

  • Society participation  
  • Sports 
  • Competition  
  • Leadership roles 


In the conclusion of your recommendation letter, sum up the student’s strengths. Remind the admission board that the university and the student can both benefit from their admission into the programme.  



At the very end of the letter of recommendation, don’t forget to include a professional sign-off. Close it with a ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Best Regards’ along with your name, professional title and contact information.  


Tips for writing a letter of recommendation for universities

  • Ask the student about their academic background 

You are likely to have many students and therefore don’t necessarily remember the details of a particular student. It’s a good idea to ask the student to provide you with some relevant information before you start writing. 

  • Address the name of the school and programme correctly 

Students often apply for more than one programme at the same time. Make sure that you get the names right when writing the recommendation letter.  

  • Tailor the letter of recommendation for the programme 

When writing the recommendation letter, read through the programme’s website and highlight the student’s strengths and traits accordingly. 


Academic Recommendation Letter Sample 

reference letter sample

If you still have questions about how to write a recommendation letter for a student, don’t hesitate to contact us at Intake. Our advisors can provide you with more information and help for your specific needs. 




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