How to Write an Academic Reference Letter

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If you are a teacher, instructor or professor, chances are at some point you will have a student ask you to write an academic reference letter for him. Before you commit to such a task, be sure that you have enough information to write a letter that is both true and at least mostly positive. If you do not have enough information about the candidate in order to write the letter, ask him to bring you a list of his academic accomplishments and grades to help you round out what you know.

1 Identify yourself

Identify yourself. Establish your credibility as a person qualified to write this letter by stating your name and the position you hold in a school or university.

2 Explain your relationship to the applicant

Explain your relationship to the applicant. Use specific information, such as the class you taught that she took or the fact that you serve as her academic advisor; include the length of time you have known her as well.

3 Give a specific example

Give a specific example of something the applicant has done well, academically, while under your supervision. This could include the topic of a well-written paper, research conducted or a grade on a final exam. Using a specific example shows that you know this student well and also sets him apart from the other applicants.

4 Include basic information

Include basic information about the applicant's overall academic performance. Identify her grade point average if you know it, or explain her final grades in the classes you have taught. This will paint a picture of the overall status of the applicant's abilities.

5 Include a list of academic strengths and weaknesses

Include a list of academic strengths and weaknesses, with examples if you have them. Focus on the strengths, such as the diligence a student showed in attempting to solve a difficult problem or the effort the student put into revising a paper. You might even include ways the student participated in the classroom discussions or took on leadership opportunities within the classroom.

6 Close the letter with a statement of recommendation

Close the letter with a statement of recommendation. Explain why you feel the applicant will be successful in the role for which she is currently applying.

  • If you feel you cannot say enough positive things about a student, do not write a letter for her. Explain to her that she would be better off asking someone else.
  • You may feel the need to include weaknesses to make the letter seem more realistic, but this isn't necessary. After all, the candidate chose you because you know his strengths and he wants to make a good impression.