Writing recommendation letters

It’s time for our baby birds to begin thinking about leaving the nest. This always makes me super emotional because most of my students I have had since freshman year. I watched them grow up! Given that, who better to write a letter of recommendation for them?

This task can be daunting because some years there are SO MANY requests. It can be quite time consuming and because of that, it’s easy to dread them. 

However, let’s shift our focus! What an honor it is to tell the world about how great this kid is. So, how can you be successful in writing the best rec letters? Let’s find out!

Give yourself a deadline and get some details

I ask students to give me a deadline and also tell me in detail what the rec letter is for. Is it for admissions or a scholarship? The letter can be adapted for both, but I need to know where this is going. Next, I need to know what they plan on doing in life. Use this Google Form to help gather some information. 

Start with a bang

I have no clue who is reading these letters but I suspect they read quite a few. For that reason, I start every letter with a bang. 

“Cara [LASTNAME] has the kind of spark that could start a revolution.”

“Tommy [LASTNAME] is unstoppable. From the first moment I met this young man, I knew he would conquer the world.”

“Joleigh [LASTNAME] is a walking embodiment of the phrase “How does she do it all?” With her determination, tenacity and cheerful disposition, Joleigh makes life and all it entails look like a walk in the park.”

I get one chance with these letter readers, and I won’t waste it. Be bold with your letters. Our journalism students go above and beyond and the greatest gift we can give them is our full support and public acknowledgement of their efforts.

Keep it to one page

Because so many letters must be read, say all you have to in one page.

Keep a spreadsheet of accomplishments

Students forget all that they have won and achieved. I keep a running spreadsheet of every year’s awards. When it comes time for college apps, I share this with them so they can start those resumes. It’s helpful also when writing their letters. 

Share the letter with them!

I am bragging about this kid for a full page, and I want them to know what I think about them so I always send it to them as a PDF.

So, what do you do if you have a student who requests a letter but hasn’t earned it. That’s tough and we all encounter it. Truthfully, we can find something good in every student but I have had occasions when the student did not put forth the effort in my class that would earn them a solid letter of recommendation. 

At this point, I sit down with the senior and ask them what they think I should say in the letter. It doesn’t mean I won’t write one but I also won’t lie. It’s a great lesson in consequences and accountability. 

I hope this was helpful to you as you enter what I call “Letter Season.” Soon we will talk about the next season, “admissions hell” and chat about how to celebrate and comfort when admission news starts rolling in. 

Happy letter writing!

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