For Recommenders

Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation

Collaborate with the Candidate

  • Meet with candidate and make sure to get their resume, unofficial transcript, and application essay drafts.
  • Require information about what they are applying for and/or evaluation criteria.
  • Interview the candidate, asking them to discuss personal objectives, both short- and long-term, a discussion that could well reveal alternate or additional pursuits for the candidate to consider.
  • Find out who else is recommending the candidate and reflect on how your letter will complement others’.

Use Material Specific to This Student and for This Purpose

  • Know your audience and purpose – what criteria must a candidate meet to be considered for selection?
  • Keep your focus on the candidate, not your course, research, or work, while providing a context for your knowledge of the candidate.
  • Provide details about the candidate’s achievements and their goals/intentions, for the intended program and long-term; “quantify” when appropriate (as in “__ is the most prolific undergraduate scholar I have mentored in 24 years at the University of Missouri, having authored or co-authored 12 articles before her senior year”)
  • Endorse the candidate’s commitment to service and prospects for leadership/distinction in their chosen field.
  • Revise and edit (don’t be bashful about seeking assistance from colleagues).

Other Considerations

  • Never take a request for a letter of recommendation lightly. If you are approached to write a letter and cannot in good conscience support the candidate, it is better to say no than to submit a half-hearted letter; another individual may have good reason to endorse the candidate’s application.
  • Balance praise with carefully stated criticism if appropriate.
  • Comment beyond your field of expertise as you are comfortable, especially by describing transferable skills. Is the candidate:
    • A leader?
    • Committed to serving the common good?
    • Willing to take on challenges?
    • An effective communicator (in speech and writing)?
    • Creative in solving problems?
    • Ethical in their decision-making?
    • Persistent?
  • Try to demonstrate that the candidate is a doer and accomplishes what they set out to achieve, connecting those accomplishments to the purpose of the program, and if possible, the criteria for evaluation.
  • Employ specific terms of praise that demonstrate performance.