How to Write Letters of Recommendation for High School Students

Written by jenn hart
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How to Write Letters of Recommendation for High School Students
Be specific and use examples when writing a letter of recommendation. (Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

When high school students take their first steps into the worlds of work and academia, they don't have previous employers to offer observations and evaluations of their work habits. They rely on teachers, counsellors, ministers and community leaders to vouch for them. Writing a letter of recommendation for a high school student requires the writer to have an understanding of the applicant's overall character and scholastic abilities. Offering concrete examples based on specific interactions with the applicant allows employers and admissions committees to understand the student in a more personal way, beyond test scores and grade point averages.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging


  1. 1

    Ask the student for a copy of the application materials. If the letter is for a college acceptance or scholarship, request that the student provide copies of the application instructions along with samples of his work.

  2. 2

    Reviewing the application materials with the student to gain an understanding of what he wants from your letter. Determining whether he wants a general letter of recommendation for a part-time job or an academic endorsement for a scholastic program will guide your writing. Many people require high school students to complete a written request for a recommendation that states the purpose of the letter along with its due date.

  3. 3

    Address the party to whom you are writing by name. If you don't have a specific name, use the name of the institution, admissions committee, scholarship committee or employer.

  4. 4

    State the name of the applicant and how long you have known her. Give the context of your relationship with the applicant. In the case of a teacher writing a letter of reference, state the subject you taught the student.

  5. 5

    Discuss the applicant's scholastic competency. Offer such supporting evidence as the student's academic performance in your class. Differentiate how this applicant stands out from others you've known. If the student has shown growth over time, discuss it and give examples.

  6. 6

    Refer to The National Association of Colleges and Employers list of attributes when writing letters of recommendation for high school students: ability to communicate, intelligence, self-confidence, willingness to accept responsibility, initiative, leadership, energy level, imagination, flexibility, interpersonal skills, self-knowledge, ability to handle conflict, goal achievement, competitiveness, appropriate vocational skills and direction.

  7. 7

    Spell-check and proofread your letter for spelling and grammar errors. Be sure that the applicant's name is spelt correctly as well as the name of the institution where the letter will be sent.

  8. 8

    Conclude the letter by providing such contact information as your school, department, telephone number and e-mail address. Use a formal closing like "sincerely" and sign your name. Print the recommendation on official school letterhead and make a copy for your records.

Tips and warnings

  • A letter for employment should be one page; a letter for college admission can be up to two pages.
  • Avoid discussing the student's grade point average, class rank and SAT scores.
  • Be real and avoid depicting the applicant as a "perfect" individual.
  • Family members should refrain from writing letters of recommendation for high school students.
  • Beware of discussing your own credentials in too much detail; restrict information about your professional expertise.
  • If the student has an individualised education plan, do not reference it.
  • Do not directly or indirectly identify the applicant by race, gender, age or political affiliation.
  • Decline the request to write a letter of recommendation if you are not comfortable giving a positive reference.

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