Letter of Recommendation for Graduate School (With Example)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 2 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Applying to graduate schools, internship programmes or for other opportunities require applications, cover letters and often letters of recommendation. A letter of recommendation for graduate school shows potential schools that their candidates have proven their abilities to other experts in the field. Knowing what to include and how to write a recommendation later can help you support former students, colleagues or employees as they pursue higher education.

In this article, we discuss what a letter of recommendation is, who writes one and how to write an effective one.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a document a professional or academic reference writes to verify a colleague or student's skills, character traits and attitude for their desired role or program. It can also help them gain financial aid or employment as a teacher's assistant or research assistant at graduate school. When they apply for a graduate school program, they typically submit the letter with their other application materials.

Related: How To Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Example)

Who writes a recommendation letter?

You might receive a request from former students, colleagues or former employees to write a recommendation letter for them. If you worked as a mentor, teacher or simply worked with them at work, you could write the recommendation. It's important that you believe they would be a good candidate for the position or program for which they're applying.

Related: How To Ask Someone To Be Your Referee: Email Examples

What should a recommendation letter include?

There are several key components to writing a recommendation letter. The structure might vary slightly based on the requesting school or program but be sure to include some combination of these:

  • Information about you: in your recommendation letter, express who you are and your current role. You want to show admissions officers that you have the authority to write this letter.

  • An overview of your relationship: describe the company or class where you fostered the relationship with the candidate. Explain your professional relationship, the years you spent together and what type of work you did together.

  • A specific story or detail: showcase the requestor's skills or talents by describing a specific event. It might be a moment when you knew they showed initiative, a moment they were extremely helpful or a moment where they excelled among their peers.

  • How you think they'd succeed: include a few sentences about how you think the student could fit in with their school and program. This might require some research to learn about the school's values and culture.

  • Contact information: sometimes, admissions officers might require additional information when reading your letter or call to verify the content of your letter.

How to write a recommendation letter for graduate school

Regardless of the reason a student or colleague requests a recommendation letter from you, there are some basic steps you can follow. Following these can help someone get the opportunity they want:

1. Accept the request

Before you write the letter, make sure you support the candidate and their endeavour. It's important that your relationship with them is appropriate and you have enough evidence of their work ethic or the quality of their work and character to write the letter.

For example, if you had an undergraduate student in a biology course who stayed after class, asked questions and was passionate, you might write them a recommendation letter for a master's program in marine biology. If a distant co-worker requests a recommendation letter for you, suggest they might find someone who is more familiar with them and their work.

2. Learn the requirements

Each school or program may have specific requirements for recommendation letters. Learn if there are any word or character limits, specific prompts to follow or questions you need to answer about the requestor. If you have any questions, ask the requestor to clarify.

3. Gather information

It's important to gather all relevant information about the requestor, the school where they're applying and the program. Especially if you're writing a recommendation for a former student, learn more about what they're doing for work now, how they performed in other classes and what their plans are after graduation.

Since it's important to show how the candidate would be a good fit for the university, be sure to research the program and describe how you think their unique qualities would bring value to the school.

4. Compose the letter

Once you have the requirements and information needed, compose the letter. Format the letter as a formal letter in a standard word processing program and include:

  • Contact information

  • Date

  • Formal greeting

  • Introduction paragraph

  • Body paragraphs

  • Closing Paragraph

  • Salutation

Related: Email Etiquette: Here's How To Use 'To Whom It May Concern'

5. Proofread

Be sure to check the letter for any grammatical or spelling errors. This is especially important in recommendation letters as you're representing the requestor and a clean, error-free letter increases your credibility. Consider asking a colleague to read it for clarity.

6. Follow up with the requestor

Show the requestor of the letter that you have an interest in their success. Follow up with them to see if they've sent the letter and periodically if they've heard from the school. Maintaining this relationship can encourage them to succeed in their future projects.

Tips for writing a recommendation letter

Here are some tips you can follow for writing an effective recommendation letter:

  • Be positive: focus on the requestor's successes, unique traits and how they helped you or taught you something.

  • Use standard formatting: using a standard business letter format shows your professionalism and increases your credibility and authority as a recommendation.

  • Be professional: use formal and professional language, focusing on the experiences you shared in a classroom or in a work setting.

  • Focus on relevant qualifications: as people have a variety of different skills, focus on the qualifications needed for the specific request. For example, if a student needs a letter for a writing program, showcase their editing skills rather than math or science skills.

  • Follow the instructions: understand the request clearly, noting any school-specific requests. Check if there is a word or character limit and due date and submit the letter accordingly.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About a Proof of Employment Letter

Recommendation letter template

Here is a template you can use to start a letter and populate it with your own experiences:

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to express my recommendation for [Requestor] for placement in your [program name].

My name is [Name], a [job position and institution]. I have worked here for [length of Time] and have had many students. [Requestor] is someone I couldn't forget with their great attitude, work ethic and passion for [subject].

[2-4 sentences about your relationship with the requestor, where you worked together or what class of yours they took.]

[2-4 sentences describing a specific situation, shared experience or unique quality in the requestor that highlights their skills and abilities.]

[1-3 sentences describing how they might be a good fit for the school, program or job]

If you need any additional information or want to verify the content of this email, you can contact me at [email address] or [phone number]


[Your Name]
[Job title]
[Company name]

Recommendation letter example

Here is an example you can use to model your recommendation letter:

August 1, 2021

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to express my recommendation for Mei Lau for placement in your master's programme in financial management.

My name is Kit Chan, a Director of Finance for Worldwide Advertisements Incorporated. I have worked here for 11 years while teaching various courses at Pacific Ocean University where I've had many students. Mei is one of my memorable former students because of her great attitude, work ethic and passion for finance.

Mei was unsure of what she wanted to study when she took my Introduction to Finance course and expressed to me she had a passion for helping people by explaining the complex nature of finance and business. She explored classes in Accounting, Information Technology and Marketing before approaching me about pursuing a finance career. I could see her excitement when I told her she could eventually open up her own private practice and help people that way.

A few years after that introduction course, Mei took my advanced finance course. For our final project, students had to create a business in a specific market, provide their analysis and make recommendations, persuading me as if I was in the business. She created a clothing retail business with storefronts in a struggling market and calculated ways where they can invest in manufacturing technology and advertising, creating a five-year plan toward growing their business exponentially. She factored in every cost, possible risks and had alternatives ready. The class agreed the project was exceptional.

Since Hong Kong University values excellence and focus, I know Mei's dedication, creativity and attention to detail will thrive in your program.

If you need any additional information or want to verify the content of this email, you can contact me at kitchan@myemail.com or 2222 4444.


Kit Chan
Director of Finance
Worldwide Advertisements, Incorporated

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