Letters of Recommendation

Last month, I did a brief overview of the college application as well as how to write the essay for the college you wish to attend. The one thing I didn’t go into much detail on is how to go about getting letters of recommendation.

Much of what I write here comes from Lee Binz (homeschool mother/coach on how to homeschool highschoolers). She outlines everything you need to know about how to get letters of recommendation and how one should be written in her article on Surefire Letters of Recommendation, so if you don’t like my writing, you can read hers instead.


The first thing you should be aware of are the guidelines. Like the essay, colleges can be very stipulative about how the letters should look and how they should be sent, so you should look those over before you go around asking for letters. That way, if the recommenders want to send the letters out themselves,  you’ll be able to tell them first hand what the college wants. The rule of thumb is to treat it like an official document (like your transcript) and send it in with the recommender’s name signed on the flap of the envelope.

Formatting of the Letter

Your recommenders will also be need to be aware of how the letter should be formatted. Teachers or anyone who works in a profession that deals with professional writing  should already be familiar with this; for those in the latter category, they’ll recognize the structure as that of a formal business letter. For everyone esle, they’ll need an outline. The outline I’m providing here come directly from Lee Binz article, so nothing has been changed:

Recommender’s name
Recommender’s address
The Current Date

Dear College Name (or “To Whom it May Concern” only if necessary),

Paragraph 1: The first paragraph should identify the student, and how the writer knows them. Be specific if a project was completed under your supervision.

Paragraph 2: Give specific evidence about the student’s increased knowledge, maturity, and understanding. Discuss details of their project topic or other aspects of development during the time spent together.

Paragraph 3: Give as much evidence as possible for any of the following attributes or work skills: written and oral communication, initiative and motivation, planning and organizational skills, technical expertise, flexibility or adaptability, interpersonal and social skills, responsibility, leadership, problem-solving, and teamwork.

Paragraph 4: Conclude with a recommendation and accentuate the overall positive qualities you witnessed in this student. The recommender should explicitly state, “I highly recommend…” or other strongly worded phrases.


Recommender’s signature
Recommender’s typed full name
Recommender’s title or position (For parents, “Home Educator”)

Finding a Recommender

By the time you get the little details down, you should already have a good idea as to who you want to write your recommendation. There are two things you should ask yourself about the person in question:

  1. How well do they know you?
  2. How good are their writing skills?

Many colleges usually prefer it if your parents don’t write your recommendation because there ends up being an obvious amount of bias there. If that’s the case, then the next option usually ends up being teachers, coaches, or an instructor of some form. Other options would be leaders in community organizations you’re involved in, managers from where you work, or someone that knows you very well that’s in a high ranking position.

But before you go around asking for their recommendations, you’ll need to get a good assessment of their writing skills. The writing proficiency of the recommender writing your recommendation says a lot about the recommender that’s recommending you; a recommender that lacks that proficiency devalues the recommendation they’re writing, making that recommender a poor choice in recommending for writing other people’s recommendations (Sorry. Hehe). How do you find out if they’re a good writer? The best way is through emails or letters they may have written to you in the past, or any other article that may serve as a good example of their writing skills. If all else fails, just ask for their recommendation and have them send it to you. If it sucks, toss it out.