Letters of Recommendation Advice and an Example

Most competitive schools require letters of recommendation (LOR). They do not do so lightly. The letters of recommendation that are submitted with your application are read with great care and are considered one of the most important parts of your application. A lukewarm letter can destroy an otherwise excellent candidate’s chances, and a glowing letter can help a borderline student gain admittance.

College Application Letters of Recommendation - Advice and an Example

Why are college letters of recommendation important? What makes them so interesting to the admissions committee?

  1. Objectivity: Firstly, they give the admissions committee an informed, independent, third-party perspective of the applicant. The more the recommender can demonstrate his or her bona fides AND his or her genuine knowledge about the student, the more the admissions committee can trust his or her assessment of the student.
  2. Filling the Knowledge Gap: Second, the letter can provide important information about the applicant not otherwise available on the application, like the way she participates in class or the kind of friend he is. They fill an important knowledge gap.
  3. Stand Out Among Your Peers: Finally, the letter can help students stand out from among their peers. As the quote from the MIT admissions officer above points out, a letter that raves about a student will help a student much more than a merely supportive one.

Because of their usefulness in identifying great candidates, letters of recommendation are often also required for internships, summer programs, and employment opportunities, and for scholarships and special academic programs. As a result, it is really important to get the best letters of recommendation you can, early and often. They can make or break your admissions success rate.

Sample Letter of Recommendation for a College Application: 

Dear Admissions Office,

It is with great pleasure that I write this recommendation letter for Brandon Thomas to support his application for admission into the engineering program at your university. I know Brandon very well since he joined my optional Advanced Programming and Robotics class in his first year at Joy High School. Brandon is one of the top students in an extremely able class at Joy High School and one of the few exceptionally gifted students I met in my career. Brandon has a high aptitude both for engineering subjects such as Computer Science and natural sciences such as Biology and Chemistry. 

His diverse interests and at the same time determination and ability to focus on the areas of his special interest are among Brandon’s biggest strengths. Brandon truly impresses me with how far he is ready to go beyond regular curricular programs in order to acquire additional knowledge on specific topics. Although not an A student in all of the subjects, in the areas of his special interest he constantly and actively seeks opportunities to acquire new knowledge demonstrating his love and passion for science and engineering. 

I was not surprised when Brandon informed me that he participated this summer in the research project conducted by the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Maryland in the area of Material Engineering and Science under the guidance of professor Stanely Leverbe Ph.D., full professor in the Department of Materials. The work in the laboratory with more senior and experienced research team members helped him to develop and strengthen his general laboratory skills, critical thinking, and ability to perform as a part of the team under pressure. As a result of this intensive work Brandon recently assisted in a paper that was published and presented at the International Conference on Materials in Maine. The topic of the paper was related to the influence of 3D printing orientation on the mechanical properties of PLA polymers. 

Brandon has contributed to our community in a variety of ways, but Brandon’s most notable accomplishment was the organization of a very successful charity project for Special Hospital for Chronic Childhood Diseases Gornja Bistra. The hospital treats children up to 18 years of age who suffer from chronic diseases or diseases whose course of treatment is extremely long. These are mainly diseases of the central nervous system, endocrine or metabolic disorders, various syndromes, and other serious diseases without a prognosis for recovery. Brandon and a few of his classmates regularly volunteered in the hospital prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their task was to walk children with severe motor difficulties in the park and read to them whenever possible. Since this type of activity is due to the pandemic health protection measures are presently not allowed Brandon was actively seeking other ways to provide help and support to the hospital and its small patients. Since the hospital is in constant demand for specific products Brandon took the initiative and organized a charity program in order to provide necessary supplies to the hospital. He conducted many phone calls, emails, and meetings with potential donors until a significant quantity of supplies and financial aid was collected. The Joy High School received a special honor from the hospital board for this accomplishment and details about this charity program were published on the hospital’s official web pages. I can not emphasize enough how this undertaking made us both proud and moved at the same time. 

Brandon also has the ability to successfully schedule demanding extracurricular activities around a full academic workload. When confronted with hurdles and disturbances Brandon is calm, focused, and persistent in finding the right solution. Instead of looking for excuses he works harder and smarter. Brandon’s positive can-do attitude and strong belief in his ability to improve through practice were likely shaped by his years as a basketball player and overall impressive athlete. Brandon trains with great dedication every day for a few hours and not without notable results. In 2019 Brandon as a tenth grader won with his classmates Joy High School Basketball Championship and they have won all the school championships ever since. His contribution to this great accomplishment as a regular starting five player and one of our team’s most valuable players was indispensable.

Brandon is a well-rounded individual who is highly motivated and committed to work hard in order to achieve his academic goals. Brandon has a passion, genuine interest, and talent for engineering and science, he has the intelligence to comprehend complex concepts and the ability to think critically. He is a self-motivated, dedicated, hardworking student and has all the determination, discipline, and persistence he needs to succeed in any undertaking he sets his mind to. He is competitive and clearly enjoys a challenge, in a competitive international college environment he will be in his natural setting. 

Brandon clearly exhibits many qualities of a leader: charisma, integrity, maturity, determination, responsibility, and compassion. Brandon has a warm personality with an intelligent sense of humor and is respected and liked by his classmates and other peers. He radiates with confidence and easily gets along with others very well in any setting. He is an independent and active member of our community who pursues various personal interests.

I strongly believe that Brandon is an ideal candidate for your demanding engineering program and therefore he has my highest recommendation. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Analysis: What Makes This a Good Letter of Recommendation? 

The teacher advocates for Brandom immediately. plugs for Stacy right off the bat with a statement of outstanding ranking: Brandon is one of the top students in an extremely able class in Joy High School and one of the few exceptionally gifted students I met in my career. This statement quickly draws the reader in and situates the student within their academic setting. 

This letter uses strong, specific language highlighting the student’s academic interests and tangible ways they’ve contributed to the school. 

Beyond the evaluation, the recommendation vividly offers examples of the student’s involvements and character. 

This letter is a strong vote of support for Brandon’s application to an engineering program. His physics teacher admires Brandon’s skills and goals and made it clear that Brandon came highly recommended.

Best of Luck in Your Own Recommendation-seeking!

If you’d like assistance in this, or any other aspect of your college admissions journey, we’d love to be the ones to support you.
Contact us for a no-obligation call/meeting with one of our admissions strategists.

Former Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College
1 Year in Dartmouth College Admissions
1,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Angela Dunnham is a graduate of Dartmouth College, where she majored in English Language and Literature. She is earning her master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy at Beijing Normal University in China. Angela has considerable experience advising students and families throughout all stages of the admissions process. She’s worked with students living in the United States and China.

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