How to Write a Letter of Recommendation: Counselor’s Guide + Samples

how to write a letter of recommendation

Are you a teacher looking to learn how to write a great recommendation letter for your students?

Are you a student looking to figure out how to get great teacher recommendations?

Greetings intrepid college counselor,

At the bottom of your to-do list is writing a letter of recommendation — for dozens of students — and all the desktop zen gardens in the world won’t make that go away.

But don’t worry. We’ll show you why writing strong recommendation letters for your students can be one of the most powerful ways to advocate for them. And while we’re at it, we’ll also walk you through how your letters of recommendation differ from a teacher’s letter; then, we’ll offer you two different ways to write yours. Both approaches work well, so we’ll show you how each is done — with examples for your reading pleasure.

After all, “strategy” is this guide’s middle name.

how to write a letter of recommendation

In the spirit of this topic, we’ve gathered advice from a number of experts, including:

  • Chris Reeves, school counselor and member of the NACAC board of directors

  • Trevor Rusert, director of college counseling at Chadwick International in South Korea

  • Michelle Rasich, director of college counseling at Rowland Hall

  • Kati Sweaney, senior assistant dean of admission at Reed College

  • Sara Urquidez, executive director of Academic Success Program, a nonprofit that promotes a college-going culture in Dallas/Fort Worth high schools

  • Martin Walsh, school counselor and former assistant dean of admission at Stanford

  • Michelle McAnaney, educational consultant and founder of The College Spy

And I’m Alexis, a high school English teacher-turned college counselor-turned journalist. Ethan (the College Essay Guy) and I serve as your synthesizers and storytellers in this guide, which we’ve chunked into a few parts:  

Why Writing a Counselor Letter of Recommendation is Important

What’s the point?

Well, most of us became counselors to actually help students (although class registration is a crackerjack good time, too). We know these letters take time and energy, and can sometimes feel thankless.

But writing a well-crafted letter of recommendation can truly make a difference for your student. And for students who come from low-income homes or have especially tough circumstances, it’s the opportunity to advocate on their behalf.

Recommendation letters have some serious clout in the admissions process. Some colleges consider them pretty darn important — above class rank, extracurricular activities and, at least when it comes to the counselor recommendation, demonstrated interest (dun dun dun!). Check out the results of the 2017 NACAC “State of College Admission” survey:

counselor letter of rec image.png

Our buddy Chris Reeves, a member of NACAC’s board of directors, has another way to read this table: “If you consider ‘considerable importance’ AND ‘moderate importance’ ... the counselor rec even ranks above the essay.”

Basically, if it comes down to your student and another candidate — all else being equal — the letters of recommendation you write can get your student in or keep them out. And, according to a presentation co-led by our friend Sara Urquidez at a 2017 AP conference, recommendation letters can also help decide who gets scholarships and who gets into honors programs. All told, they’re kind of a big deal.

As counselors, you provide a key source of information about something that test scores and transcripts can’t: your student’s role in the community. If you’ve ever seen or written a teacher letter of recommendation, you’ll notice some similarities. But know this: While the format for these two letters of recommendation may be very much the same, the content should differ.

Here’s how:

A teacher’s letter, according to Martin Walsh (former assistant dean of admission at Stanford) and a presentation co-led by Sara Urquidez (executive director of Academic Success Program), should describe:

  1. the impact this student has on the classroom

  2. the “mind” of the student

  3. the student’s personality, work ethic and social conduct

Counselors, your letter should describe:

  1. the student’s abilities in context, over time — how do they fit within the school’s overall demographics, curriculum, test scores?

  2. special circumstances beyond the classroom that impact the student

But does anyone actually read my letter? (Or am I just shouting into the dark, dark void?)

letter of recommendation for student

Yes! (To the first question) Your letter will be read and rated, sometimes by multiple admissions reps at each school.

What do I mean rated?

Well, your letter may get a sort of grade that will (hopefully) bump your student up in points. Here’s a rubric and some instructions admissions representatives used to follow to assess recommendation letters for students (courtesy of Martin Walsh).

Where did Martin work again? Stanford.

(PSA: The rubric is about 15 years old, but Martin thinks it can still shed some insight on the evaluation process.)

“In general, our candidates receive good, solid support. For many of our private school applicants, hyperbole can be more the rule than the exception; guard against over-rating such comments. Note if there is consistency among the recommenders. Do they corroborate or contradict one another?

Watch out for the “halo effect,” where a parent or other relative of the applicant may be on staff at the same or another school or be a VIP in that community. Watch for recommenders who use the same basic text for every student for whom they write, or who write inappropriate comments. Do not penalize a student whose recommender’s writing style is not strong. Don’t penalize a student for what is not said. Some teachers/counselors are better recommendation writers than others.

The rating should reflect both the check marks and the prose, and also should reflect the overall enthusiasm the recommender has for the candidate.”

Top few of the recommender’s career; extraordinary performance and impact in the classroom; multiple examples to illustrate an outstanding mind

Very strong support; provides clear example(s) of a fine mind; wonderful contributor who elevates discussion with unique insight

Strong support; excellent student; frequently adds to discussion

Standard positive support with some examples

Mixed comments; and/or muted support; and/or absence of examples

The recommender doesn’t support the student or writes particularly negative comments

Now that you know the key differences in content, and that your letters WILL be read, it’s time to dig into the nitty gritty.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Student

Our friend Chris Reeves, a counselor and member of NACAC’s board of directors, gave us the data-driven skinny on what admissions representatives are looking for in a counselor rec letter these days.

During the 2013-2014 school year, his colleague Trevor Rusert surveyed nearly 250 members of Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (which represents a large group of private high schools in the US), and 17 reps from the top 25 colleges to which his students apply.

Here’s what he found:

how to write a letter of recommendation

How do we actually write these letters?

Michelle McAnaney, a former school counselor turned independent educational consultant and founder of The College Spy, said writing letters of recommendation was one of the best parts of her former job.

She spent time interviewing each student, along with relevant guardians, coaches and teachers; reading their essays and reviewing their file. “I did my homework and I wanted my letter to have weight because it deserved to have weight,” she writes. As such, she didn’t waste space writing about how long she’d known the student; she said she could write just as thoroughly about a student she’d known five weeks as about a student she’d known for four years.

She gave us some preliminary tips to consider as you begin writing your letters of recommendation:

Do your research. Say you’ve got a huge caseload — most public school counselors do. (Nationally, the ratio is close to 500 students for every counselor, according to a NACAC report based on 2014-2015 data.) You don’t have time to get to know every student well. Still, specific examples in the counselor rec letter improve credibility. Here’s how to gather them:

    • Collect a “brag sheet” or questionnaire from the student, a parent and two teachers. Ask questions on the form that will help you with your letter. Some suggestions are:

      • How has the student grown throughout high school?

      • What words would you use to describe the student?

      • Are there any academic or social challenges that you would like to share?

(If you don’t want to make one from scratch, we’ve got your back — download this puppy and share it with your students!)

    • Email key people (a teacher, coach, clergy person, grandma) in the student’s life and ask for feedback about the student.

    • Review the student’s cumulative file and transcript. Take note of any dips in grades.

    • Have the student provide a resume.

    • Read the student’s essay to find out more about them and so you can ask the student to elaborate.

    • Interview the student AFTER you have gathered the rest of the information. Ask them to elaborate on their brag sheet or ask them to tell you more about what you learned from the key people in their lives.

    • If possible, read the student’s teacher letters of recommendation.

    • Gather feedback from the student. “I also directly asked students what they wanted admissions to know that wasn’t reflected in the rest of their application,” Michelle writes. “They usually didn’t know, but when they did, I had them use the additional info section or I would write about it myself.”

According to Michelle, doing your research keeps you from repeating anything from the rest of the student’s application. “I added to what was already written,” she writes. If she didn’t have time to get to know the student as deeply as she’d liked, Michelle wrote about how the student “approached the admissions process,” as well as how they interacted with her throughout the journey.

Now, for the writing itself. As we said in the beginning, we’re going to walk you through two different approaches. The first, we call the “traditional” approach. If you’ve ever written or received a letter of recommendation in your life, it’s probably looked like this one. The second is a newer, more innovative approach; its creators call it the “organized narrative.”

Intrigued? Read on.

The Traditional Approach to Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Counselors

This is your typical letter of rec. It looks, well, like a letter. Long paragraphs. Transition words and phrases. Indentations. That sort of thing. It’s a tried and true method.

recommendation letter for student

So you’ve probably seen these. But how do you actually write one well?

Michelle has you covered. Below, she gives suggestions for how to navigate the counselor rec letter, from the title to the conclusion.

(Remember, this is one way to do it. It’s great! And we’ll also show you some examples. But if you want to jump ahead to the newer approach — The Organized Narrative — be our guest.)


Here’s Michelle: “Your letter will be a combination of your own impressions and knowledge of the student and a synthesis of the information you have gathered from the student and other sources.”

How to begin:

  1. Use a title: “Letter of Recommendation for John Doe”


  1. Put the student’s name in the first sentence: “It is my great pleasure to write this letter of recommendation for John Doe.”

Suggestions for the first paragraph:

  • Write an anecdote. A story is always a great way to draw the reader in.

  • Write a summary of the student’s strengths. Introduce what is to follow in the body of the letter.

  • Write what first comes to mind when you think of the student.

Suggestions for body paragraphs:

Here’s Michelle: “The body of your letter is going to be determined by what information will be most helpful to an admissions counselor in determining if the college and the student will be a good fit. If you had the opportunity to read the student’s essay and teacher letter of recommendations, you will be able to choose the content of your body paragraphs to complement, but not repeat, what has already been written. Your goal is to provide MORE information. If soccer is the most important thing in a student’s life and the student already has a letter of recommendation from the soccer coach, it is acceptable not to mention soccer. It is important that the student’s application, and not your letter, be comprehensive.”

Character and Personality

Describing the student’s character and personality is helpful. Giving examples and telling stories that illustrate the student’s character and personality is golden.

Extracurricular Activities

It is not necessary to repeat the student’s activity list. Write what is unique about the student’s participation in activities. Do any themes emerge? Is the student a leader? Has the student tried many new things in an effort to figure out their interests? Is their interest in activities based on genuine interest rather than resume-building?


In general, the teacher letter of recommendation will discuss the student’s academic progress and abilities. If a student is an avid reader, write about what they like to read. If a student is a news junkie, mention it. These details are important and may not be discussed in the rest of the student’s application. The counselor letter of recommendation should also explain anything unique on the student’s transcript such as an exchange program or perhaps a reason why a student took a specific course. If there is a dip in grades on the student’s transcript, the counselor should explain the reason.

Challenging Circumstances

Admissions counselors will be interested in knowing if a student’s grades were affected by challenging circumstances such as death, divorce, illness and poverty. It is usually appropriate to mention adversity without giving too much detail. Focus on how the student coped with adversity and how the circumstance might affect the student in college.


How does the student interact with adults? Is the student a good friend? Does the student have a special relationship with a sibling? Is the student a leader? What kind of roommate will the student be?

Suggestions for the Conclusion:

  • Why will you miss the student?

  • What will the student offer their future campus community?

  • What is your prediction for the student’s success at college?

Finally, Michelle writes that the counselor letter of recommendation “should always be positive.” Even if you’ve had a poor experience with the student, focus on their good qualities. A short letter with a few truthful, positive words is perfectly okay.

Here’s Michelle: “Every student deserves the chance to grow and mature. Attending college is the change of environment that might just be what the student needs to turn their behavior and attitude around. The counselor letter is our chance to set students up for success.”

Sara Urquidez, executive director of Academic Success Program, has gathered a slate of strong counselor examples that work for different kinds of students. We’ve included them below:

Example Counselor Letter of Recommendation for the Traditional Approach: The Student Who’s Faced Adversity

To Whom It May Concern:

I apologize in advance, but there's no other way to say this. Student is a badass.

Most students would not be able to achieve everything that Student is able to accomplish. When she faces adversity, she comes up with a solution. For ANY and EVERY obstacle. When her family did not have money for food, she got a job. When she needs extra help for school, she shows up early. When the school needs her to represent our student body, she stays late. She refuses to allow any of her commitments to her family (or our school) interfere with her schoolwork. College=Freedom is her password for her college accounts because she knows that the only way for her to “be free” from her economic situation is to attain her college degree. Student has no choice but to succeed.

Student is ranked number 6 in her class of 309 students, spends countless hours at school and has taken many of the most challenging classes (including 5 AP classes this year!) offered at Thomas Jefferson High School. Student has the dedication to amount to anything she sets her mind to. The reason I feel so confident to in her success is not necessarily because of her academic achievements but because of all the things she has had to overcome thus far.

This achievement is most remarkable when put into context. Student comes from a low income, single parent, Hispanic household where she shares her home with approximately 13 other people —  her mother, aunt, cousins, siblings and grandmother. Student sleeps on the living room couch because they don’t have nearly enough beds to accommodate everyone. Although this might sound like an inconvenience, this is her normal. It's what they do to be able to live in a semi financially stable household. As expected, Student finishes her school day and heads straight to work. The money she brings in helps pay for all home necessities and expenses.

Most students wouldn't be able to do much more than Student does with work and school. Again, Student proves to be an anomaly. She is at school at 7:00am EVERY DAY. She is more than happy to come in early to work on her college applications, help a teacher prepare for their day, or ask for help when she needs it herself. Further, she is a member of our Patriot Ambassador program, which has allowed her to further develop her leadership skills. She loves to help freshmen assimilate into our high school.

Student does all of this for no other reason to ensure that she is on the right path to success. If I can  provide any further insight, please do not hesitate to contact me at (214) 555-5555.



Example Counselor Letter of Recommendation for the Traditional Approach: The Introverted Student

To Whom It May Concern:

It gives me the greatest pleasure to recommend Student for admission and scholarship consideration. As the Executive Director of the Academic Success Program, I am charged with helping create a college-going culture in Dallas ISD, and Student reminds me daily why I took this position.

When you first meet Student, you will notice that he is shy, reserved, and soft-spoken compared to his peers. Once you get to know him, you discover he has the kindest heart one could ever imagine. He immigrated from Mexico and since arriving in the United States, he has taken advantage of every single opportunity to better himself. He first enrolled in ESL classes, then challenged himself by taking Pre-AP classes, and now he is in AP classes with his classmates who have been here much longer – and he outperforms many of them. His hard work has been rewarded and he is ranked in the top 10% of his class. Yet, through Student’s success, he remains humble – firmly grounded in his realization that there is always something more to learn, work harder at, and be thankful for. I have never heard Student complain about walking to school because his mother does not drive, that his course load is too demanding, or that the work is too much or too hard. He simply works that much harder to ensure he gets everything done.

Student is an active member of the Hillcrest High School AVID and Academic Success Programs. Through his actions he has shown that he is prepared to give back to the kids who follow after him. Student will be the first in his family to attend college and his mother speaks limited English, so his younger siblings rely on him to show them the way. As a result, he is mature beyond his years.

Because of his kind heart, compassion for others, and the respect he shows everyone around him, he is well liked by classmates and faculty alike. You would be hard pressed to find anyone to say anything negative about Student. Student is an active member of our community – participating on the football team, the soccer team, and the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, always striving to give more to others than he takes. He does not have to be the best or the center of attention, and indeed, he seems as happy in the supporting roles as the leadership positions. Sadly, it’s uncommon to see a high school student who is as fervent in their desire to give back as Student is. He truly sees everything he has been given as a gift and wants to ensure that everyone has those same gifts and opportunities.

While many high school students are questioning what they want to do for the rest of their lives, Student has a plan. He is ready to take on the challenges of engineering school, and I have no reservations about his plan and his ability to succeed. He readily asks for help and seeks out resources for success, and I expect this will continue throughout college. He is not afraid to admit when he doesn’t know the answer. Beyond that, he recognizes his own deficiencies and strives to improve himself. He does not expect anyone else to carry him through. While I realize that you could say that about many students, I can promise you, Student will give back. He will be gracious, thankful, and he will find a way to better the world for the students who come after him. Student will always use his gifts to benefit others – it’s who he is and it’s as much a part of him as his DNA. Student will leave this world better than he found it, and those are the reasons my program exists – to find those students who will encourage, inspire, and motivate their peers. There is no one better to do that than Student – to prove that it is possible to kind, gracious, and achieve great success – and help others along the way.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.



Example Counselor Letter of Recommendation for the Traditional Approach: The Middle of the Pack Student

To the University Admissions and Scholarship Committee:

Student is playing the long game and running a race of endurance. His mission is to work as a surgeon in the United States. So far in his academic career, he has taken the most challenging courses (9 Pre-AP classes; 7 AP classes; 1 Dual Credit ) offered at Bryan Adams that will fit in his busy schedule. He is on the cross-country team, a member of the soccer team, vice president of National Honor Society, and an officer of “No More Violence.” NMV is a grassroots student organization that aims to help mediate student conflicts to promote peaceful resolutions. When he is not busy with his extracurricular and academic pursuits he is on the sidelines cheering on his classmates wholeheartedly with Cougar pride.

Student  is a first generation immigrant to the United States whose parents left Mexico in search of better opportunities. Student's story is common amongst the students at Bryan Adams and in East Dallas, but his determination is uncommon. He is aware he has to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as a path to employment and residency legitimacy. He is aware he will have to participate in the system even though at times the system may seem broken. Even though we are fortunate to live in a state where grants are available for Students who graduate from Texas high schools, often the state grants fall short of funding a college education. Also this next year, the Texas Legislature might repeal SB 1528 which grants in-state tuition To Students like Student, high achievers who embody American values but lack residency status. Therefore, a generous financial aid package and substantial scholarship would eliminate an obstacle out of Student's control.

Student has used his perseverance and faith in the American system to propel him through twelve years of school. He wants to make a contribution to society by healing others and providing medical care. He has a long road ahead of him. He is not asking for charity, he knows he is competing with students who have higher test scores and GPAs. In the interim, he is training everyday by studying for the next SAT and the next ACT. He is asking for an opportunity for the playing field to be leveled—so his uphill efforts are rewarded with a quality education and the skills he needs to thrive.

I am cheerleading for a student who has so much school spirit and pride he started a rag tag group of Super Fans who attend every Bryan Adams football game to cheer rowdily, passionately for the Cougars. The Super Fans come to games wearing the Cougar Green, face-painted vibrantly, bullhorns blaring, and Cougar Spirit emblazoned proudly. More cowbell, please! The infectious sense of camaraderie is shared amongst Students from diverse factions—the jocks, the Gamers, the Belles, the Theater Nerds, the Band Nerds, the Musicians, the Emos. At Homecoming 2016 their valiant efforts produced a wave, a cloud of green smoke, and a pummeling of the Jefferson Patriots. Studentis the ringleader and his charismatic enthusiasm has helped propel our team to a winning season. For Homecoming Week, Student dressed up as Donald Trump for Patriot Day and donned a green fro, moustache, and face paint for Spirit Day. He’s Instagram-ready for whichever college or university he decides to attend.

With no reservations, I highly recommend Student for  admissions and for scholarships to your college or university. He strides to make proud whichever place he chooses to call home. He aims to do this by celebrating his own accomplishments, by running fast through adversity, and by rallying others to achieve their goals.



Example Counselor Letter of Recommendation for the Traditional Approach: The Outlier Student

To Whom It May Concern:

Student is a fearless feminist with ambitions to work as an editor for a publishing company. Her reading list is varied— with a slight leaning towards the fan fiction genre. But along with The Hunger Games Series and The Fault in our Stars, Student reads modern classics—currently Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for AP Literature and excerpts from Nabokov’s Lolita out of curiosity. She is also delving into some non-fiction such as the Life and Death of Dith Pran. This is particularly impressive for a student from our high school; few (if any) students delve headfirst into books the way Student does.

Student is a highly sensitive individual who has turned to inner reflection and reading to connect to the complexity of the world around her. She is an immigrant who has lost touch with her homeland—more American, yet seen as an “alien” tomany. Her home life is strife with turmoil—from the emotional toll her older brother’s immunodeficiency disease takes on her family to the constant fighting between her parents. Student uses fiction literature to connect with others who may also be in turmoil. She often stays after school in the Academic Success Program office to work because it is one of the few safe spaces to work. At home, she helps comfort her little brother when the parents fight.

Student is an active member of the Feminist Club at Bryan Adams. It is the club’s inaugural year and its mission is to bring equality issues to the forefront of conversation in the classroom and to promote equality across gender lines. When Salem College sent their representative to talk to our students, Student attended the meeting. When the admissions representative spoke of negotiating future salaries, Student asked the right questions to dig deeper into income inequality. Student is interested in being a foremost voice in the movement for equality. She will not be able to vote until she receives citizenship, but she can and will work for the issues that matter to her.

Her immigration status bars her from receiving federal funds to finance her education. Her parents are hard-working taxpayers who have contributed to and participated in our economic system. Just as they put sweat equity into their modest robin’s egg blue house in East Dallas, Student’s parents have put love and care into raising a courageous young woman. Now their house is the most charming on the block and their daughter has aspirational dreams to attend a prestigious college. Student, like her parents, has built a strong academic foundation by taking the most rigorous course load available, including 11 Pre-AP classes and 9 AP classes.

Student’s unique ability to empathize with those not cisgender, those not born in the United States, those suffering from incurable diseases, and those who feel alienated will be an asset to the world of fiction literature. With a well-rounded liberal arts education, Student’s potential will illuminate a spotlight on several stories that deserve to be told, and I can’t wait to see how she tells them.



These are great, but I’d like to shake things up. Is there another way?

Yes! And it’s about dang time.

The Organized Narrative Approach to Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Counselors

In the 1600s, if you knew Greek and Latin, you could get into Harvard (semper ubi sub ubi, y’all). And while the college application process has changed since then, we’re still using the traditional letter of rec format that Ralph Waldo Emerson used to refer Walt Whitman in the 1860s. In the words of the modern prophet Post Malone, it’s time to make things “better now, better now.”

Our buddy Chris Reeves, his buddy Trevor Rusert, and their colleagues crafted what they call the “organized narrative” style of rec writing, which “allows writers to quickly and effectively draft personal and detailed letters using a hybrid of headers, narratives, and bullet points.” The style is focused and fast — both to read and to write. (Another perk: You won’t have to bother with those persnickety transition sentences. Boom!)

recommendation letter for student

Below, we show what the format looks like for counselors.

The organized narrative structure is broken into these parts:

Distinctive Qualities

This is your narrative section, where you introduce the key takeaways you want the reps to, well, take away, about your student. Keep it to a paragraph, maybe two.

Academic History

Bring on the bullet points. This is where you give, in bite-sized pieces, academic context about your student. Are they the only one in the class who took AP U.S. History their sophomore year? How many honors courses are they taking relative to what’s offered at the school? Did their grades plummet due to a nasty bout of mono? In a NACAC article called “Recs That Change Lives: Using the Organized Narrative,” Chris writes, “Here I also try to quantify certain points to give the admission committee context. For example, ‘John has taken AP Biology, AP Physics and AP Chemistry’ should be ‘John is one of three students who has taken AP Biology, AP Physics and AP Chemistry.’ This small measurable statement changes the story for John.”

Activities, Interests, and Areas of Impact

Again, stick to bullet points. What does your student do out of class? Any clubs, jobs, church, volunteering?  How do they invest in their school or community? How do they make the worlds of those around them a better place? This section should “add some context beyond a résumé line,” Chris writes.

Student Self-Reflection

The college counseling office at Chris’ school asks students to pick words or phrases that describe them well. This is where you include those descriptions, and offer a final affirming plug for your student.

Tada! You’re done!

This newfangled format is not without support.

Here’s what a few admissions offices had to say about the new style (taken from a slide at a presentation that Chris and Trevor gave at the 2017 NACAC Conference):

Colorado State University:

“This format works really really well. It tells us the key bits of information we need to know about a student and allows us to gain some context about their experience. Also, from an admissions office leadership level perspective and from someone who looks at hundreds of borderline cases each year, there are days where I might need to sort through 75-100 files in a day, so having clear headings and gaining information quickly about why we should move forward with this student, once again, would be very helpful.”

New York University:

“This format is reader friendly and effectively communicates the key information that I am looking for. The headings, bolded areas and bullet points make it easy to find key points and reference during committee.”

University of Southern California:

“I love your new recommendation format. It makes it so easy to get the information quickly. Thanks for changing the format! The bullets allow for me to quickly glance at what the recommender thinks are the most important aspects of the student. I generally read letters quickly so this makes it so that I don’t feel like I’m overlooking important information.”

University of San Diego:

“This is a great format! I wish everyone was using it. If I ever switch sides of the desk, I will call you to ask for permission to use the format. It is very reader- friendly. I could easily go to the section I needed and find the information I was looking for. The themes/headers are exactly what I’d want writers to use.”


“I really like the format, as it allows me to focus on a certain section. The categories that you’ve chosen are helpful and things that we would look for in our process.”

Example Counselor Letter of Recommendation for the Organized Narrative Approach

Want to see these counselor letters in the wild? Enjoy.

Letter of Recommendation for Jane Doe

Distinctive Qualities

Jane Doe is one of the most influential student-leaders in the short history of Chadwick International. Whether founding a club, captaining a varsity sport, playing in a national honors band, organizing a charity event, helping a new student, or lending an ear to a friend, she is always making a difference in the lives of others. Our community has benefitted tremendously from her leadership, compassion, and thoughtfulness. Jane is among a handful of pioneers who joined Chadwick International in the second year that the school opened. Recently the president of our student body shared this with me: “Jane is one of my best friends that I have known from 7th grade. She is a very comfortable and considerate friend, who listens to my every word when I experience hardship. I usually don't try to reveal my concerns to my peers, and I try to endure and resolve by myself. However, I feel comfortable sharing my concerns with Jane, and she always supports my decision. She is also a great student, who strives for academic excellence, and she is a great cross-country captain. I am sure that Jane will spread positive energy to the campus that she will join next year.” In high school, Jane has held leaderships positions in nearly every activity that she has joined. She was a founding member of our Key Club and helped apply for the charter for our school. She held leadership roles in Student Council in Grades 9 & 10 and was selected by her peers to serve on Chadwick International’s inaugural Honor Council (a role that she takes very seriously). Jane is also a four-year captain of our varsity cheerleading team and a two-year captain of our cross-country team, yet she is probably the most humble student in our senior class. Collectively, our college counselors have spent more than fifty years in college admission and college guidance, and in that time we have worked with thousands of talented students. We can honestly say that Jane Doe is one of the very best students with whom any of us have ever worked! She has amassed a sterling record at Chadwick International, both in and out of the classroom, and our entire community will miss her dearly next year.

Academic History

  • Jane has excelled across the curriculum while enrolled in the full International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. She had an incredible start in the DP this past year. All of Jane’s teachers comment on how she is a leader in class. She brings a “can-do” attitude to her studies, leads class discussions, and excels on all types of assessments.

Additionally, Jane is very mature in how she looks at the world and often inspires others by considering new ideas, thinking deeply, and engaging in the life of our community both in the classroom and out.

  • With five grades of seven and one grade of five at the end of the junior year, she has established herself as one of the top scholars at Chadwick International. Jane has performed consistently well in each of her subjects and all of her teachers admire the strength of her intellect.

  • According to her Economics teacher, “Jane has worked hard this trimester and shows a clear grasp of economic content. She is a diligent student who has a gift for writing, which enables her to express economic principles and concepts clearly and concisely. She has scored well on her summative assessments and I have used her writing as an exemplar to other students. She is a joy to have in class and contributes significantly to the learning atmosphere.”

  • Her Math teacher comments: “Jane has had a fantastic start to the course. She has performed well in each assessment, is fully engaged in the learning process, and frequently contributes to class discussion. It has been a pleasure to see Jane breeze through each assessment.”

Activities, Interests, and Areas of Impact

  • It is impossible for us to fully convey the incredible influence that Jane has had on our community in the space of this recommendation. We know that her application will highlight the extent of her involvement in extracurricular activities, thus we will only focus on a two areas. One cannot think of our cross-country team without thinking about Jane. She has been one of the most influential members of our squad over the past four years, and not merely because of her selections as CI MVP and All-Conference Team. As a ninth-grader, Jane passed out in the middle of a race and had to be rushed to a hospital. She missed several weeks of competition, but her commitment to the team never waivered. Even her parents questioned why she was attending practices and meets instead of doing her homework or studying for exams. Nevertheless, Jane became a member of the support team, preparing music playlists for the three-hour round-trip bus rides, cheering on runners during practices and meets, and helping massage sore legs afterwards. In doing so, she became a phenomenal role model to fellow athletes.

  • Jane is an incredibly talented musician. She has been the first-chair flautist in our Orchestra since the ninth-grade. In each of the past three years, she was selected by the Korea International Music Educators Association (KIMEA) for the National Honors Band. Jane is a two-time recipient of the KIMEA Platinum Award for her dedication, talent, and leadership. Two years ago, Chadwick International played a joint concert with Choate Rosemary Hall. Not only was Jane selected to participate in the event, but she was also asked to speak on behalf of our school (no easy task for any teenager, particularly when asked to speak in your second language). Time and again, Jane has represented our school with maturity and sophistication on national and international stages.

Additional Comments

Jane is clearly a leader both in the classroom and in our community, and she will be an exceptional addition to a college campus next year. Jane is respected and honest, and her opinions and participation are valued by everyone with whom she has made contact. She works hard and sets a great example for her peers. Jane is also is a young woman of extraordinary intellectual capacity without a shred of pretension. We are honored to present her as a candidate for admission to your Class of 2021. We urge you to give her thorough consideration for admission. We know the faculty and staff of Chadwick International join us in giving Jane Doe our strongest and most heartfelt recommendation.


Mr. Joshua Coblyn

Mr. Trevor Rusert

Dr. Hannah Yang

— To download this example and more, click here. (Shout-out to Michelle Rasich, director of college counseling at Rowland Hall, who helped curate these examples!)

In a nutshell:

Here’s Chris: “Ultimately, using an organized narrative style of letter eliminates the need for counselors and teachers to worry about things like style, creativity and prose, and allows them to focus on the things that really matter to college admission professionals — relevant information about the student.”

Okay, I’m ready to write. But ... what if I don’t know the student very well?

Click here. Send this form to your students or print out the PDF and have them fill it out by hand. #oldschool

That’s a wrap.

Congratulations — and phew! You’ve made it to the end of our guide.

recommendation letter for student

Before you fall over from the mental food baby we’ve given you, we’d love to hear from you. Is there something we’ve overlooked? Something that can make this guide better? Maybe you’ve got another suave rec letter format you’d like to share. Email us at

Finally, if you’re feeling inspired and want to learn more about all things college-admissions, we’ve got you covered — find your next free guide here.

If you’re still curious, you can also check out the student and teacher versions of this guide. Happy reading!

recommendation letter for student

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