How To Write Academic Recommendation Letters (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 1, 2022

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many post-secondary institutions and employers require academic recommendation letters to accept candidates. As a teacher, professor, or course adviser, it's your responsibility to help deserving students by writing recommendation letters that can aid their applications. Understanding how to write academic recommendation letters can help you contribute to the professional growth of your students. In this article, we discuss what an academic recommendation letter is, explore how to write them, and provide samples of these letters to help you write your own.

Related: How To Be a Good Mentor

What is an academic recommendation letter?

An academic recommendation letter provides evidence of a candidate's qualifications, skills, and achievements in an educational setting. Many employers and post-secondary institutions require candidates to submit academic recommendation letters. Only a person who oversaw a student's academic progress and performance can write these letters. Such individuals include lecturers, teachers, course advisers, and professors. A student may need recommendation letters for college admissions, job applications, or financial aid.

How to write academic recommendation letters

Follow these steps to learn how to write an academic recommendation letter:

1. Include their address and salutation

Including an address is important to ensure the recommendation letter gets to the appropriate recipient. Ask the candidate to supply you with details about the intended institution or organization. For example, you can address recommendation letters for college admissions to an admissions officer and address those for employment to the hiring manager. If you're unsure who is receiving the letter, you can opt for "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern." In cases where you know the recipient's full name, use that for your salutation.

2. Write your introductory paragraph

The purpose of the introductory paragraph is to let the recipient know who you are, why you're writing, and on whose behalf you're writing. Your introductory paragraph needs to contain your specific job title and the working relationship you have with the student. This is also a great time to mention some nice attributes about the candidate, like diligence or academic excellence, and state the basis of your recommendations. A good introductory paragraph is brief yet memorable.

3. Discuss the student's qualifications

The next part of an academic recommendation letter details the student's relevant qualifications. Again, ensure you research the institution or organization the student is applying to and list relevant qualifications. You can also speak with the student and ask them which qualifications they'd like you to include in their recommendation letter. When discussing the student's qualifications, you can consider the following areas:

  • Academic qualifications: This is usually the most relevant and refers to the student's academic achievements, specialties, or relevant knowledge. Examples are the student's GPA or relevant coursework.

  • Values and personality: This refers to internal behavioural traits that characterize the student. You can talk about the student's soft skills, principles, and relationships with others.

  • Awards: Awards are a great way to demonstrate outstanding performance. These awards can relate to academic, extracurricular, or personal achievements.

  • Extracurricular activities: Demonstrating the student's extracurricular engagements in your academic recommendation letter shows the recipient that they're a well-rounded candidate. Extracurricular activities range from sports to volunteer activities and leadership roles.

  • Demonstration of improvement: While it's great to praise the student, ensure you present them as teachable learners. You can demonstrate improvement by referencing a challenge the student overcame.

Related: Using Extracurricular Activities on a Resume (With Examples)

4. Describe specific events

Referencing specific events in your recommendation letter makes your reference more believable. It also gives the hiring manager or admissions officer a practical example of the candidate's skills. For example, you can use the STAR method to describe the task you gave the student and how they completed the task and achieved results.

Related: How To Write a Great Letter of Recommendation (With Samples, Template, and Tips)

5. Conclude the letter

It helps to restate the specific role you are recommending the student for when concluding an academic recommendation letter. Include your contact information, and let the recipient know you're available to provide more information. Finally, end the letter with a formal closing remark like "Yours sincerely" and include your full name and job title.

Related: How To End a Letter

Example academic recommendation letter for a university student

Here is an example of a good recommendation letter for a university student:

Dear Sir/Madam,

As his business administration professor, I've enjoyed supervising and working with the highly talented David Ferguson. I am Professor Shelby Williams, an associate professor of business administration at Wembley College, and David's project supervisor. Without a doubt in my mind, I can say David has all the necessary skills, values, and qualifications you need in your organization.

I met David when he newly gained admission into Wembley College. He was a student in one of my business classes, and his intelligence and work ethic immediately made him noticeable. David turned in all class projects before the deadline and participated fully in all class discussions and joint tasks. As a team player, David made it his responsibility to monitor the progress of his colleagues and explain difficult coursework to as many as would listen. I fully expected it when they appointed him the class representative.

Due to his new role as the class representative, my relationship with David grew into a respectful and mutually beneficial one. I observed David in several extracurricular roles, including when he served as the treasurer of the campus student body. In this role, David demonstrated impeccable transparency and accountability with the organization's funds. He released frequent updates on the state of the organization's finances. I was glad to learn that he eventually grew the organization's treasury by 300%, a typical result for a young man as diligent and honest as David.

David is a high-performing student and currently top of his class, with a GPA of 3.98 out of 4.0. I can confidently say he's one of the most intelligent students I've enjoyed working with during my time as a professor. Beyond his academic talents, David embodies essential professional values like integrity, dedication, and diligence. He also has impeccable leadership and interpersonal skills, which I've observed myself.

I encourage you to consider David as a new addition to your organization. I am confident that he is a valuable asset. I am available to provide any additional clarifications on David's qualifications and our working relationship. You can reach me via mail at shelbywilliams@email.com. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Shelby Williams
Wembley College

Example academic recommendation letter for a high school student

Here is an example of how to write an academic recommendation letter for a high school student:

Dear Admissions Officer,

My name is Grant Davidson, an economics teacher at Bull Lake High School. This letter is to recommend Amy Richards for a position to study economics at the prestigious Taylor University. Amy is a well-behaved, curious, and brilliant young lady who I'm certain can make an invaluable addition to your institution.

As a high school teacher, I have the privilege of observing children at their developmental stages. I believe children form many of their foundational habits at this stage, which they carry into life. Having observed Amy in an academic setting, I'm thoroughly convinced of her intelligence and work ethic. Amy has a natural aptitude for economics, mathematics, and algebra. These subjects come so naturally to her that she often assists me with tutoring some of her classmates who find it challenging. Owing to her incredible diligence, Amy takes extra time to focus on subjects she finds difficult.

Amy is also a vibrant young lady with a passion for soccer. She led the school to two municipal soccer championships as the team captain. Due to her teammates' love and admiration for her, Amy can lead any team effortlessly and inspire her colleagues to do more. I have seen this in both academic and extracurricular scenarios. For such a young lady, her interpersonal and communication skills are excellent.

I went through your university website and noticed that Taylor University prioritizes applicants with well-rounded lifestyles. I smiled while reading that because it describes the exact kind of candidate Amy is. She can bring diverse skills and talents to your institution, and I can also guarantee she has impeccable values and a strong sense of principles. I am confident Amy can thrive in your institution and make you proud, as she has done for us at Bull Lake High School.

Thank you for taking the time to read my recommendation. I am available to supply additional details on Amy's qualifications and our working relationship. You can reach me via my cell number 323-443-5644 or by email at grantdavidson@email.com.

Yours sincerely,
Grant Davidson
Economics teacher
Bull Lake High School


The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.

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