Grad School Recommendation Letter Templates and Examples 2021-2022

Recommendation letters are an essential part of every graduate school application package–even in this (almost) post-COVID era of remote work and Zoom classes. Nearly all applications to graduate school still require at least two recommendation letters from individuals who can discuss your abilities, competencies, and personal character in a coherent way and recommend you for admission to graduate school. Many referees have difficulties writing these recommendations themselves (for language issues or simply because they are busy) and some rely on the applicant to pen the draft of the letter and receive confirmation before submitting it to the graduate school. But regardless of who is writing the letter, there are a few key things the recommender needs to include to craft a stellar recommendation for their graduate candidate.

Who should write the letters of recommendation?

Recommendation letters should come from people who know you well, who respect you enough to say glowing things about you as a student and researcher, and who hold positions in school or work that are above your own. At least one letter should be submitted from a past or current professor or academic advisor. Another could be from someone in a slightly different role, including an employer, a research adviser, a senior colleague, or a professor from a different department or kind of class (e.g., a discussion class professor instead of a lecturer). No matter who it is, the recommender should know the applicant and recognize their accomplishments. It also helps if the recommender understands some details about the program to which their candidate is applying.

What should be included in a recommendation letter?

Your referral letter should cover a range of skills, from academic abilities to research experiences, to applied experiences in and out of class. As the recommender, your letter should clearly answer some specific questions:

  • What is your relationship with the student?
  • Why should the graduate faculty listen to your opinion? (include your status, title)
  • What makes this student special? (discuss their characteristics, qualities, traits)
  • What specifically did this student do to impress you? (discuss their accomplishments, habits in class)
  • What makes this student qualified for graduate school and for this program? (include specific courses or interests of the student in addition to abilities and traits)
  • What do you know about the program the student is applying to?

Which information does the recommender need?

The recommender should be given sufficient time to write (and/or confirm) the letter. If it has been a while since you were last in contact, sending a background information file will make things easier. Include the following information so that the recommender can use a few details to bolster their letter:

  • Classes the student has taken with the recommender
  • Experiences you have shared
  • Transcripts
  • Resume/CV
  • Research experience and internships
  • Awards and achievements
  • Academic/career goals
  • Relevant professional experience

In addition to background information, make sure that the recommender has the necessary information to plan the writing in a timely manner and target the letter as much as possible:

  • Graduate program application due date
  • Copy of recommendation forms (if applicable)
  • Instructions for submitting LORs (hard copy, soft copy, or direct to school)
  • Details about the program and school the student is applying to

What kind of writing is expected in a recommendation letter?

Although the letter of recommendation is more informal than academic writing, you should make sure that your language has no grammatical or mechanics errors and that it is of an academic level that reflects the author’s educational level and qualifications. Apply the following standards to the writing and the essay-drafting process:

  • Make your language more personal in tone than research writing.
  • Use the active voice and first-person point of view more often.
  • Write chronologically, starting from important traits and then moving onto actions and achievements.
  • Use lots of details—list course names, scores, and specific achievements of the student.
  • Edit your letter before submitting it to the graduate admissions faculty.

A Detailed Recommendation Letter Outline

A well-structured recommendation letter (like any organized essay) will guide the reader logically towards an understanding of why this student is worthy not only of praise but of admission to graduate school. Grad school requires quite a few high-level scholastic attributes that not all students possess, and therefore it is important to focus on both the achievements of the candidate and on their personal character and potential to thrive in a difficult academic environment. Use this outline as a template in which to input your candidate’s achievements, skills, and traits. Note that the flow of information moves the reader into greater detail, using form phrases and transitions that increase the readability of the letter.

1. Greeting to the recipient

Dear {Name}, or To Whom It May Concern,

To the graduate faculty of the {University / Department}

2. Opening paragraph: position; relationship to the applicant; general assessment of the applicant

It is my absolute pleasure to recommend {Name} for admissions to {Program} at {University}…

I am a professor of {area of study} in the department of {department} at {University}.

Letter greeting; opening paragraph: position; relationship; general assessment of applicant

3. Second paragraph: positive skill or trait; evidence of trait or skill; anecdotes demonstrating this skill

Jane has excellent communication skills. Her written work is both clear and concise, as well as interesting to read…

Second paragraph: include specific traits; evidence of character and skills; anecdotes

4. Third (up to fifth) paragraph: Other skills or trait; evidence of character and skills; detailed anecdotes

At a personal level, Jane is a well-disciplined, industrious student with a pleasant personality. She went well beyond the course expectations…

Third paragraph: more traits; evidence of character and skills; anecdotes

5. Final Paragraph: clear recommendation of the candidate to the specific school or program.

Jane is unquestionably an exceptional candidate for graduate study in {Program Applying for}. Jane’s work in “Developments in Anthropology” suggests that she would greatly benefit from the opportunities for intellectual development provided by a sustained period of graduate study…

Fifth paragraph: “call to action”—why this student will fit in with THIS program

6. Closing line: polite offer to be contacted if needed

If I can be of any further assistance, or provide you with any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Useful Template Phrases for Recommendation Letters

Admission essays often contain template phrases or “form phrases” that allow the writer to plug in their specific information while not spending too much time deciding how to compose every single aspect of the writing. This can be especially useful for ESL authors because conventional expressions used in academic and essay writing can be difficult to learn and memoriz. Use the following form phrases to help craft a more professional letter of recommendation.

Introducing yourself

  • My name is {Author} and I have been a Professor of Math at {University} since {date}.
  • I write to you today to proudly express my support for {Student} in applying to your prestigious university.

Discussing your relationship with the applicant

  • I first came to know {Student} while teaching him/her in my {Course Name} course…
  • I was {Student}’s thesis advisor during his/her senior year.
  • I have known {Student} for several years now and can attest to his/her strengths and quality of character.

Discussing the student’s general positive traits

  • {Student} has excellent communication skills and displays them regularly in class discussions.
  • He/She is a highly intelligent and competent student who excels in many areas.
  • Not only is {Student} hard-working and thoughtful, but he/she also demonstrates kindness and generosity towards his/her peers.

Demonstrating evidence of student’s character and skills

  • She/he has shown herself/himself to be a true leader who is able to successfully develop plans and implement them in his/her work.
  • {Student} demonstrated his/her independence daily, completing difficult lab exercises by researching outside of class.
  • During his/her internship, {Student} consistently managed his/her work responsibilities diligently and learned quickly. For example…

Discussing the school/program the student is applying to

  • As {University} is renowned for its {Program}, I believe this is an ideal place for {Student} to solidify his/her abilities and cement his/her knowledge of {area of study}.
  • The learning environment that {University} is famous for creating excellent opportunities in which {Student} to apply his/her skills.

Final endorsement and offer to be contacted

  • For the above reasons, I am confident that {Student} will make an excellent addition to your graduate program, and I wholeheartedly support him/her for admission to your program.
  • Thank you for your time and attention in reading my endorsement.

Further Tips for Writing Admissions Essays

  • Highlight your self-motivation, competence, and potential in this essay
  • Emphasize everything from a positive perspective and write in the active voice.
  • Demonstrate through examples; don’t just write that you are a “persistent person”—show it!
  • Approach every topic with continuity and focus.

The Final Step: Editing Your Recommendation Letter

As any good writer knows, it takes more than one draft to create a strong and compelling work of writing. After you have written your recommendation letter draft, there is still a lot of room for revision. One way to ensure that grammar mistakes and style errors do not get in the way of a strong letter is to give it to the professional admissions editors at Wordvice Editing Service to edit and proofread your essay, helping raise the chances that your applicant will be admitted to the graduate or doctoral program of their choice. We edit thousands of admission documents each year for all kinds of authors of academic and admissions documents just like you.

For more academic resources on writing and editing your essays and academic work, check out the some of articles and videos below.

Wordvice Admissions Resources