Paper with title Letter of Recommendation and start of letter with red pencil

Best Practices and Advice for Writing College Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are important in college admission—especially counselor recommendations. Here's some advice on writing them for your students.

One of the required documents for most college applications is the recommendation letter. Students often request letters of recommendation from teachers and school counselors during the college admission process. The importance of these letters varies depending on a college’s specific requirements. In the current world of holistic admission, a great recommendation can help a student get accepted to a particular school. Therefore, recommendations should be considered an important and necessary part of the process. Teacher recommendations may be more focused on describing student academic success in a particular course, whereas counselors can offer insight regarding students’ academic, personal, and social development in comparison to their peers.

The importance of counselor recommendations

The counselor recommendation letter is weighted heavily by college admission committees. Writing a strong letter of support for your students is an important means to advocate for them as they strive to achieve their academic and personal goals. School counselors can speak to a student's character, interpersonal skills, personal growth throughout high school, and plans for success in a particular major. Students with less than desirable standardized test scores or a low GPA may be boosted by a school counselor’s honest assessment of potential success in college. While a student’s academic performance may not be up to standards, as a school counselor, you can offer a personal assessment, provide explanation for any academic weaknesses, and possibly predict post-secondary success.

Make your recommendation specific

The best recommendations are specific and in-depth—but this may prove challenging for counselors with large caseloads. To write the best recommendation letters possible, ask students to submit a copy of their You could have them complete specifically designed questionnaires. It’s important to encourage students to establish a positive rapport with you during their high school careers. It’s when a school counselor knows the student well that you can provide context to help admission departments better understand an applicant’s poor academic assessment or challenging life circumstances.

Related: Top 5 Questions About Recommendation Letters

Tell the right stories about your students

The most memorable recommendation letters tell a specific story with examples and anecdotal information in support of the student. Stories help the student come to life on paper and differentiate them from others. Admission departments will be able to determine how well a counselor knows a student through the recommendation. A strong letter can offer a far more meaningful statement of support for a student than a generic or form letter. Additionally, the more interactions a high school has with a specific college, the more highly regarded the counselor’s recommendation letters may be.  Admission representatives also rely on school counselors to provide an accurate assessment of students who will be the best fit for their institutions.

How to structure your letter

If you need a general guide to follow beyond these best practices, here are some specific suggestions on how to structure your counselor letter of recommendation.

  • Provide an overview of the student, including academic successes, extracurricular activities, and community service experiences.
  • Showcase the student’s successes in high school with anecdotal information, such as illustrating how the student excelled inside and outside of the classroom (including leadership and volunteer experience).
  • End your letter with a paragraph that conveys the strength of your endorsement.

Related: The Top 5 Do's and Don'ts for Letters of Recommendation

Counselor recommendation letters are a supplementary component of the college application utilized by admission committees to gain a deeper understanding of the qualities and well-roundedness of potential students. It’s vital that you and your students develop strong rapports because your influence can be essential to final admission decisions. Helping students achieve their educational goals and professional dreams is certainly a highlight of the school counseling profession. Here’s wishing all school counselors a happy, productive, and safe school year!

For more great advice on counseling at your best, check out the blogs and articles in our Counselor and Consultants section.

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About Jennifer Severini-Kresock

After 20+ years as a high school guidance director/counselor in the public school system, Jennifer Severini-Kresock recognized the growing need for individualized college preparatory services.  In 2012, she founded and became the lead counselor of NEPA Career and College Counseling Associates, bringing her passion for helping mold ideal college candidates.

Jennifer received a BS in Clinical Psychology, graduating cum laude, and a Master of Science degree in Secondary Counselor Education from Marywood University. She’s spent countless hours engaging in professional development activities, including conferences, college visits, and web-based learning opportunities. She has also lectured at the university level and has been cited for her professional excellence by several organizations in the industry.

NEPA Career and College Counseling Associates is available to help students find their ideal career and college major. Services include aiding in the college admission process and advising students on college admission testing, résumés, essays, financial aid, and scholarships. In-person and Zoom appointments are available. Contact Jennifer Severini-Kresock at 570-702-5700 or for more information on her career and college preparation services. 


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