How to Write an Academic Recommendation Letter

Jennifer Herrity

Updated June 16, 2022

Published October 7, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

This article has been approved by an Indeed Career Coach

Students and young professionals may need to submit an academic letter of recommendation when applying for higher education or a job opportunity. As their academic reference, you can write an effective recommendation letter that highlights the skills and personal attributes that make the student a highly qualified potential student or employee.  

In this article, we discuss how to write an academic letter of recommendation and provide two sample letters that you can use to help you compose your own.

Recommendation Letter Format
Image description

Recommendation Letter Format

  1. Introduction and statement of recommendation

  2. List of specific reasons you are recommending them to the position

  3. Personal story with evidence of their qualities (soft and hard skills)

  4. Closing statement with contact information

  5. Signature

What is an academic letter of recommendation?

An academic recommendation letter is a document that details a student’s academic achievements, character and goals. Teachers, guidance counselors, school administrators, club organizers and coaches often have ample evidence of a student’s capabilities. They are often the most qualified sources to write academic letters of recommendation that suggest how the student will fit into the new university or career.

Academic letters of recommendation can supplement a student’s transcript to help organizations better understand who the student is and what they aspire to. They can also complement a student’s resume and cover letter to a company to provide more insight into their school-related accomplishments.

An academic recommendation includes several types of letters, including: 

  • College recommendation letters

  • Graduate school recommendation letters

  • Job application recommendation letters

  • Letters to gain financial aid 

  • Letters to gain teaching assistant employment at a university 

The student may request a general letter of recommendation to be used for several university admissions or job applications. Otherwise, it’s best to address the letter to a specific person or a university admissions office or a company’s human resources department.

Related: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

How to write an academic recommendation letter

These steps will help guide you as you write an academic letter of recommendation. Include the following information to help ensure your academic recommendation letter sets your student apart from other applicants:

  1. Address the letter.

  2. Include a brief introduction.

  3. Outline the student’s qualifications.

  4. Describe a time that the student impressed you.

  5. End the letter with a particular endorsement.

  6. Provide your contact information.

1. Address the letter

It’s important to understand who will be reading your letter so you can provide appropriate information tailored to their program or company in your letter. Ask your student who to address the letter of recommendation to. If they’re applying to a specific position or school, then address the letter to the hiring manager or admissions director. If the student is applying to several programs, then address the letter “To Whom It May Concern.”


2. Include a brief introduction 

In the first paragraph of the letter, introduce yourself by explaining who you are, your profession, expertise and your relationship to the student. Consider including how many years you’ve known the student and your impressions when you first met. Be sure to also state why you are writing by mentioning the position or program you recommend the student for. Detailing your qualifications and your intention at the beginning of your letter can help the reader trust your recommendation.

Related: How to Write a Recommendation for a Student in 6 Steps

3. Outline the student’s qualifications

Next, an academic letter should include specific details of your student’s time in school to prove their academic abilities. You should ask the student to provide you with a list of achievements and activities as well as their transcript or GPA so you can have a comprehensive perspective of their qualifications. You can discuss the following areas to give the reader your endorsement:

Extracurricular activities

The student may be involved in a number of clubs, sports or other activities that make them a well-rounded individual. Consider selecting one or a few of these activities and expressing the skills and character traits the student has developed through them.

  • Awards or recognitions: Your student referee may participate in academic or creative competitions or show consistent academic excellence. Discuss the awards they’ve won or the impressive grades they’ve maintained to illustrate the student’s ability.

  • Academic specialties: Include your student’s area of expertise or which subjects they’re most passionate about. This will help persuade your reader that your student is genuinely interested in the position or program they’re applying to. 

  • Attitude and perspective: Include details about your student’s positive character traits. Workplaces and universities often value people who bring a positive attitude to their environment because it helps boost morale and improve working environments or academic relationships. 

  • Demonstration of improvement: Describe your student’s ambitions, and discuss how they improved in your class or finished a big project successfully. These items can demonstrate that your student works toward goals that will help the company grow or the university grow. 

4. Describe a time that the student impressed you

As you highlight your student’s character and skills, use specific anecdotes to help the university or company understand more details about the student’s personality, drive and abilities. Describe the student’s situation, the actions they took to succeed and the results of the student’s actions. By providing an objective and a result, you can demonstrate your student referee’s ability to identify an opportunity and take steps to complete the task or improve the situation. 

Related: How To Decline Writing a Student Recommendation Letter

5. End the letter with a particular endorsement

You can make your recommendation letter more effective by directly relating the student’s qualifications to the university or company to which they’re applying. In the final section of the recommendation letter, state specifically that you recommend the student, and highlight their potential contributions to the position or program.

To complete this element of the letter, consider also asking the student for more information about the school or company and why they chose to apply. This valuable information can also be paired with your own research of the company or school to properly outline the student’s compatibility.

6. Provide your contact information

At the end of the recommendation letter, include your contact information and offer to provide any additional information the recipient may ask for. This allows your reader to gain a better understanding of the student, and it gives you an opportunity to be an even better advocate for the student.

Related: Letter of Recommendation Formats (With Templates)

Academic recommendation letter examples

Here are two examples of academic recommendation letters from teachers. The first example gives you a guide to writing a general letter of recommendation that a student could use for several applications. The second example is for a student who asks for a letter of recommendation for a specific school. You can use these to help you write your letter of recommendation: 

Example 1: General letter of recommendation for a college student

To Whom It May Concern:

I have had the pleasure of working closely with Shirley Rodriguez for the past three years as she pursues her undergraduate degree in health science. My name is Jameson Quall, and I am Shirley’s academic advisor. I can wholeheartedly recommend Shirley and confidently say that she will make a great addition to your company.

From the first time I met Shirley in my Anatomy Foundations course, she has impressed me with her knowledge and ambition. She participated in every discussion and performed exceptionally well on all of her assignments. Our sports trainers were so impressed with Shirley that they chose her as a lead student aide for the sports training program.

I’ve watched her work with injured college athletes with compassion and care. She understands the holistic approach it takes to keep injured players positive during their recovery. I believe she has the drive to be a successful physical therapist or sports physiologist, and your work placement program will help her pursue this goal.

She ranks in the top 5% of our sports science program at James Clever University. She is one of the brightest students I’ve advised in several years, so I am convinced that Shirley will prove to be a pivotal asset to your company.

I would be happy to further discuss Shirley’s skills and charismatic nature with you. Feel free to call me at 456-345-7778, or email me at jameson.quall@jcu.edu.

Sincerest regards,
James Quall
Program Director, Health Sciences
James Clever University

Example 2: Specific academic letter of recommendation for a high school student

Dear Mrs. Koscicks,

My name is Gene Ridley, and I am the Honors Psychology teacher at Trinity Park High School. It has been an absolute pleasure teaching Sandra Hampton in this course, and I highly recommend her to the undergraduate program in education at Barryville University.

It has been an honor to work with such a caring, talented student. In the past year, I have watched her excel in her studies while still offering help to her peers. When a student was struggling to understand a new concept in my class, Sandra offered to tutor the student outside of the classroom. She effectively helped improve the student’s performance and interest in the class. She also offers her tutoring services to younger students at our high school and at the local elementary school.

Her GPA is 4.0, and she is ranked in the top 10% of her class. She’s won several awards, including the Caring Student of the Year Award.

Your university’s mission is to teach people the power of helping, and I believe Sandra embodies this principle. Therefore, I am confident that Sandra will excel in your program in education, and I hope you will consider my recommendation.

If you would like to discuss Sandra’s skills and character traits further, I’d be happy to schedule a phone call. Please feel free to reach me at 432-194-7665, or email me at gridley@trinityparkhighschool.edu.

Sincerely,
Gene Ridley
Senior Psychology Teacher
Trinity Park High School


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