Properly Formatting a College Recommendation Letter

A well-written recommendation letter can help a high school student get into college.
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College recommendation letters can pack a powerful punch in the admissions process, particularly when they reveal talents and skills a student hasn't mentioned in her application. A well-written and properly formatted recommendation letter conveys authority and competence, and this can affect the college admissions office's perception of the applicant. If you're asked to write a recommendation letter, take time to check it for spelling and grammar and ensure that it is typed in a readable, professional-looking font.

1 Heading

If you have professional stationery or letterhead, print the letter on it. Otherwise, put your name, address, phone number and email address centered at the top of the letter to create a heading. The recipient's address goes two lines beneath this on the left side of the paper. Add an "Re:" line two lines below this, followed by the student's name. Place the date two lines below this on the right side of the paper.

2 Greeting

Personalized letters tend to be more effective because they show that the student is targeting a particular school, rather than sending recommendations to 50 different colleges. Ask the student the name of the person receiving the letter and address it to Mr. or Ms. followed by the person's last name. Use a colon after your greeting, and do not refer to women as Mrs. or Miss unless you know for a fact that this is how the recipient prefers to be addressed.

3 Letter Body

Keep your letter brief and to the point, and avoid filler. Emphasize traits that are unique to the student rather than providing generalities and broad statements. For example, if a student has worked full-time to support her family or faced health problems and gotten good grades in spite of this, mention it. Discuss the student's academic achievements and interests. If the student has a particularly long list of achievements, the letter can exceed one page, but it's generally best for recommendation letters to be no longer than a page.

4 Closing

Close the letter by mentioning that you recommend and respect the student; then sign it with "Yours Truly" or "Sincerely" followed by a comma. Then put your name two to three lines after this. Print the letter and sign your name by hand. Some colleges require that you place the letter in an envelope and sign the envelope across the seal to ensure that the student has not read, opened or tampered with the recommendation letter.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.