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Writing Recommendations

How To Write Evaluations

Because of the highly competitive applicant pool, letters of recommendation hold substantial weight in admissions decisions. A well-written letter for an outstanding applicant can highlight impressive characteristics beyond his/her own self-advocacy. Colleges are looking for people who have and will make an impact - the difference between a letter that supports and a letter that raves about a special student.

Both guidance counselor and teacher evaluations are most helpful when they are specific and storied. They should provide information and impressions that cannot be gleaned from the rest of the application. Try to give a complete sketch of the student and the context of his/her accomplishments. Support your conclusions with facts and anecdotes whenever possible. A story or incident that conveys the character or merit of the individual is more telling than a mere statement like "Mary is mature."

Try to address the following questions in your evaluation:
  • What is the context of your relationship with the applicant? If you do not know the applicant well and are only able to write a brief summary, please acknowledge this.
  • Has the student demonstrated a willingness to take intellectual risks and go beyond the normal classroom experience?
  • Does the applicant have any unusual competence, talent or leadership abilities?
  • What motivates this person? What excites him/her?
  • How does the applicant interact with teachers? With peers? Describe his/her personality and social skills.
  • What will you remember most about this person?
  • Has the applicant ever experienced disappointment or failure? If so, how did he/she react?
  • Are there any unusual family or community circumstances of which we should be aware?

Please pay special attention to the opening and closing of your evaluation. Remember, Colleges are reading thousands of applications and appreciate strong statements that will be remembered. With that said, please write in a way that makes you feel comfortable and do not shy away from giving your honest impressions. Use glowing superlatives if they are backed up with examples and context; what is behind a student's achievements. Above all else, make sure to go beyond a student's grades and academic performance. This information is available in other parts of the application.

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