The good the bad and the boring
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The Good, The Bad, and the Boring:. How to write an effective recommendation for (almost) any student. The Basics. Introduction Academic context Context of the student in the community Conclusion and endorsement. Information gathering. Ask for a student resume

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The good the bad and the boring

The Good, The Bad, and the Boring:

How to write an effective recommendation for (almost) any student


The basics
The Basics

  • Introduction

  • Academic context

  • Context of the student in the community

  • Conclusion and endorsement


Information gathering
Information gathering

  • Ask for a student resume

  • Have the student answer specific questions or a questionnaire

  • Collect comments from progress reports or teachers

  • Ask for parental feedback or a questionnaire

  • Interview student


The good
The Good

  • Often the easiest letter to write because the student is so outstanding, the letter practically writes itself.

  • Explain the background or situation and why you think s/he is outstanding. Your student doesn’t have to be one of the best in the nation to be one of the best in your community.

  • Give specific details and examples. Help the college understand school and community context and why this particular student stands out.

  • Explain achievements if necessary, give details and descriptions.

  • Avoid hyperbole, even for the most extraordinary. It will only weaken your credibility and thus your ability to advocate.



The bad
The Bad legible font size!)

  • Often the trickiest letters to write

  • Know your administration – would a letter with negative feedback cause you future problems?

  • Create a “non-recommendation” with faint or no praise, simply facts

  • Make it shorter than your usual letter

  • Ask the college to call you to speak further about the student, and leave your concerns for that call

  • Be tactful, but honest. Protect your ethics, and the relationship with the college.


The good the bad and the boring

( legible font size!) Substitute “fired” for expelled, and you get the drift…)


The boring
The Boring legible font size!)

  • AKA: The kid who gives you no feedback, the enigma, or the kid you have never seen before

  • Fall back on the data you have without the student’s input

  • Focus on the positive information you do have, even if it is only one point

  • Avoid creative writing

  • Your letter can still read as very supportive even if the student is not a star

  • Rely on the basics mentioned earlier


Tips and tricks
Tips and Tricks legible font size!)

  • Make the format of the letter interesting to read. For example, title the paragraphs for the reader, or use alliteration, (Sarah as a “scholar, senator, student of service.”)

  • Use quotes, lines from poetry or songs. (Be careful not to be corny or sappy.)

  • Think about how your community views the student, and if any relevant image comes to mind, make an analogy to paint a picture of the student. "Timmy is the Bill Gates/Tim Tebow/Conan O'Brien of our high school." Explain why. It can make the student stand out vividly in an admission officer's mind. 

  • Be creative, passionate, or persuasive.


Do s and don ts
Do’s and Don’ts legible font size!)

  • Be clear in your description

  • Be concise

  • Don't give laundry list of activities

  • Don't use strings of adjectives

  • Don't include information about you

  • “Show” don’t “tell” - use good descriptive writing

  • Don’t ever “recycle” a letter, specific paragraphs, or even catchy phrases or common adjectives

  • Be honest

  • Simply stated, write what you would like to read