Teaching

Knock Out Those Letters of Recommendation: Pro Tips From Teachers

Some teachers write more than 30 a year.
By Hayley Hardison — November 14, 2022 3 min read
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It’s college application season, which is notoriously hectic for both high school seniors and their teachers.

While it’s the students who juggle college applications, teachers have a big role to play, too. They’re tasked with writing letters of recommendation for many students who will need this official seal of approval—a job that generally doesn’t show up in their contracts and can take fair bit of time to complete.

On a recent LinkedIn poll, 38 percent of high school teachers reported writing more than 10 letters of recommendation for students on average each year. Ten percent reported writing more than 30 each year.

(Our poll is based on a convenience sample, not a nationally representative one, so the results aren’t definitive.)

We asked high school teachers on social media to share not only how many letters of recommendation they average annually, but also how much time the letters take and what they do to streamline the process.

Experienced educators shared best practices to help knock out letters of recommendation, which we’ve compiled below. The responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Tip #1: Find a template that works for you

” ... I have an outline that I follow for all rec letters….

1st paragraph: intro. Basically the same for all letters.

2nd: how I know student. Discuss something(s) I’ve observed about them in class.

3rd: extracurriculars

4th: usually related to character qualities

5th: summary and closing.”

@karlmealor

”... I also keep all my letters to use as a template. My formula is basically 1) intro with how I know the kid and a sentence like in this time I have found (name) to be (a couple of adjectives). 2) paragraph about their accomplishments in my subject area and what kind of student they are. 3) paragraph about outside of the classroom or what kind of person they are outside of their traits as a student. 4) conclude”

Beth Gannon-Rittenhouse

Tip #2: Get organized

“I categorize them by the extra curricular activities the kids were involved with such as water polo field hockey soccer band choir etc. makes it easy to adjust from one student to another”

@petramarxa

“Pro Tip: Color code elements of your recommendation template that need to be personalized AND have a separate template for m/f genders. As a reader of scholarship LoRs, it’s easy to want to discount LoRs from a teacher who can’t take the time to check who they’re writing about.”

@alessa_ed

Tip #3: Have students contribute

“ ... I ask them to fill out a Google form with some questions about what they learned in my class, challenges they overcame, etc. If they want me to do this work for them, I ask them to participate. Many don’t want to do the extra, so they ask someone else. / To be clear, I ask them to do the form because it helps me write a personalized letter, not to deter kids from asking me. But I do believe that’s part of why I don’t get as many requests as some other teachers.”

@JamesonAPLang

“ ... We have a form in my department that we ask the kids to fill out to help us write (why are you asking me; what was a memorable moment in our class, what was your greatest challenge/success in my class, etc.) Sometimes I quote the kids exactly in my letter.”

Maija Langeland Scarpaci

“I ask students to provide a list of

🌻achievements,

🌻aspirations,

🌻activities,

🌻hobbies, etc

to help me construct a personalized draft.

I enjoy writing the letters and look forward to seeing how many I get this year.💜💜💜"

Lynn D.

Tip #4: Get a head start

“I typically write 60-70 (I teach mostly juniors). I ask my students to ask me in May so that I can write some over the summer.”

@EGLake04

“ ... I start in the summer with students who I know would benefit from a letter from me bc I know I see their strengths but they might not have anyone else who does and for those who just asked really early.”

Michelle Carter

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