How to Write a Reference Letter for a Student

Updated February 2, 2023

A well-written letter of reference is an important document to support a student's academic and career goals. While there is no one way to write a reference letter, it is most effective when it speaks personally to the student's strengths, positive personality traits, and academic intelligence. Learning how to write a letter of reference can better prepare for the occasion when one of your students requests one. In this article, we discuss what a letter of reference is, explore six steps on how to write a reference letter for a student, provide an example, and share tips to guide you in writing your own.

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

What is a letter of reference?

A letter of reference, sometimes called a reference letter or recommendation letter, is a document that someone writes on behalf of another person by highlighting their best qualities and work ethic. This document can give a student a better chance at securing a new career or academic opportunity. The person who writes the letter is typically someone who knows that student well, as they have had time to assess their character traits and distinct capabilities. A strong letter of reference helps an institution gain a better understanding of the students' accomplishments, skills, experience, strengths, and goals.

Related: Character Reference Letter: Sample and Tips

How to write a reference letter for a student in 6 steps

Follow these six steps to learn how to write a reference letter for a student:

1. Gather information from the student

Collect some basic yet valuable information, like their GPA, academic accomplishments, notable achievements, and other extracurriculars. It's also important to collect information about the program, job, or school they want to apply to, as this allows you to write a more personalized and comprehensive reference letter. The primary purpose of gathering this information is to compile it in a way that supports and highlights the student's successes.

Examine your student's resume if they are looking to apply for a specific job, as this can help you understand their background more thoroughly. Request to review the description for the open job posting so you can give the student some meaningful advice on how to succeed in this new opportunity. Students sometimes have to submit a letter or personal essay, so offer to review that as well to determine some ways to improve its quality. You can also ask the student about their motivations for applying and their long-term career goals.

2. Address the letter properly

It is essential to confirm the name and address of the person who will read the letter. This ensures the right person receives it and makes the document seem more authentic and personalized. Consult with your student to identify who the letter goes to and what purpose they serve in the application process. There are a variety of professionals that you may end up addressing the letter to, like the hiring manager, head of the department, admissions specialist, or a director of a specific program.

Sometimes the student may not have a specific individual to whom they want you to address the letter. In these cases, it's usually acceptable to address the HR department of a company or the admissions office of a university. In instances when the student is applying to multiple colleges or jobs, write the letter to be more general and focus more on the student's relevant attributes.

Related: How To Start a Letter, With Tips and Examples

3. Introduce who you are

As the person writing the letter, it's important the recipient understands your credibility as the student's reference and views your opinion as valuable and thoughtful. When you start the letter, define who you are and why you are qualified to write on behalf of your student. Include basic information like your job title and the subject that you taught to your student, if applicable. If you are or were not their professor, then you can explain your role at the school and how it relates to the student.

Related: How To Introduce Yourself in an Email (With Examples)

4. Detail your connection to the student

In the introduction of the reference letter, emphasize your academic relationship with the student, how long you've known them and the capacity in which you got to know them. This aspect sometimes extends to your job and should directly connect your role to the student's journey in academia. Consider including details like your first impression of the student and how they developed over the time you knew them. You can further emphasize this point by detailing how and why the student always impressed you in class or within some other academic environment.

5. Use examples to define the student's qualifications

Businesses and colleges usually search for students who have a strong academic record and can contribute positively to the school or company if accepted. To make certain that your student has the best chance possible to showcase their capabilities, be sure to include all the important details about why your student is qualified for the role by using realistic and anecdotal examples. The admissions professional at a school may want to identify the student's extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations they were active in and how they contributed to them.

As you write the document, emphasize their qualifications and include examples and details about how the candidate would contribute to the company or school. You may gather details from their resume or academic profile, while also including details like:

  • Clubs

  • Volunteer work

  • Competitions

  • Sports

  • Awards and recognitions

  • Projects

  • Presentation and public speaking experience

  • Grades

  • Leadership experience

Related: How To Write an Experience Letter

6. Write the conclusion

The end of your letter briefly reiterates why you support the student based on their qualifications. Specify to the recipient that you are available for further discussion if they have questions about the student's eligibility. It is usually helpful to the recipient if you include a few ways for them to reach you, so consider including information like your email address, phone number, and any professional social media profiles. To complete the conclusion, express why you strongly endorse the student for the new school or role.

Related: How To Write a Conclusion (With Examples and Tips)

Letter of reference for a student example

Here is a reference letter example you can follow:

Dear Mr. Lee,

My name is Dr. Samira Patel, and I am absolutely honoured to write this letter for Lavender Brown. I have had the joy of teaching Lavender over the past four years as one of her professors in the nursing program at the University of Augne. I am the head of the nursing department and Lavender has been one of my top students since I began teaching her. Not only is she academically driven, but she has excellent work ethic, which is why I highly recommend her for the apprenticeship program at Mirren First National Hospital.

From the very beginning, Lavender demonstrated her passion for nursing and her academics. Her four years of straight A's indicates her interest in learning and developing her skills, while also making sure to challenge herself and help her peers whenever they need assistance. She is always calm, kind-hearted, and handles pressure very well while still completing all her work before the deadline.

Lavender has proven over and over that she is someone who is perfect for the role of a nurse. She even makes time to volunteer at a small clinic outside of town. For these reasons, I have chosen her to work as my assistant at the university for the past two years, which she has done diligently, on top of her volunteer work and academics.

With her ambition to become a registered nurse and passion for helping others, I firmly believe that she could be a great asset to your apprenticeship program at Mirren First National Hospital. To continue the discussion, please contact me at 555-987-1234 or by email at

Warm regards,

Dr. Samira Patel
Nursing Department Head at the University of Augne

Related: Importance of Using a Reference Letter Template (With Types)

Tips for writing a reference letter for a student

Because each student is unique, it's important to remember the necessity of personalizing a reference letter not only to your student but to the institution or organization. This allows the recipient to perceive the sincerity of your words and intentions to help the student succeed.

Consider these key tips for writing a student's letter of reference:

  • Write a letter of reference for a student you worked with directly so you can accurately speak to their capabilities and qualifications.

  • Get the details needed for submission, like the recipient's email, name, and the letter's due date.

  • Detail why the student is qualified by using examples that explain their experiences, skills, and attributes.

  • Ensure you have an updated copy of the student's resume and of the job description or program.

  • Use a friendly but professional tone of voice in your writing.

The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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