Writing Letters of Recommendation: A Guide for Faculty 

A letter of recommendation should be an endorsement of a student’s application.  Should you feel uncomfortable writing a supportive letter on a student’s behalf, please consider declining the request for a recommendation.

The composition of a letter of recommendation is a matter of personal style. Many writers choose to include the following:


  • An expression of pleasure at being able to recommend the applicant
  • Capacity in which they know the applicant
  • Length of time they have known the applicant
  • Assessment of the applicant compared to other students (quantified, if possible)


  • Discussion of the work the applicant completed in the courses, including grades, if applicable
  • Assessment of the applicant’s qualifications, supported by evidence
  • Evaluation of the applicant’s potential to succeed in and contribute to his or her chosen field

Depending on the nature of the application, you may wish to comment on the applicant’s:

  • Intelligence/intellectual ability
  • Originality/resourcefulness
  • Capacity for hard work
  • Leadership skills
  • Communication skills
  • Writing skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Foreign language skills
  • Technical skills (lab and other)
  • Extracurricular activities and achievements
  • Personality/maturity/integrity/judgment
  • Social skills/ability to get along with peers
  • Teaching or research potential
  • Motivation/initiative
  • Knowledge of the field


  • A reaffirmation of the recommendation and expression of confidence in the applicant
  • An offer to answer additional questions as necessary

Please keep in mind:

You should not comment on a student’s appearance, family background, religion, health, or other personal circumstances, unless they are immediately relevant to the application.

It is not appropriate to ask a student to write their own letter of recommendation.  

Other reminders:

Please proofread carefully. Exercise special caution when cutting and pasting. Double-check the spelling of names, especially proper names, and do not forget to sign your letter.

Please use college letterhead stationary to print your letter. When hard copies are requested, seal envelopes and sign them across the flap. When submitting letters electronically, please be sure to send PDF files of signed letters.   

Keep a copy of the letter on file (electronic or hard copy). You may be asked to send out updated versions of your letter as the student needs them.  

A useful resource for letter writers is “Writing Recommendation Letters” by Joe Schall.  It includes sample letters for jobs, graduate schools, and major fellowships.  


Credit: This information has been adapted from Williams College’s guidelines of the same name.