Reference letter

Applying for scholarships, internships, jobs, or higher education often requires the submission of reference letters from teachers, counselors, employers, or other mentors. A well-written reference letter can make all the difference in whether a student’s application is successful. Reference Letters for Students are often requested during different types of applications. If you’ve been asked to write a reference letter for a student, follow these tips on how to structure it effectively.

Start your reference letter with an introduction that states who you are, your relationship to the student, and the purpose of the letter.

For example:

“My name is Jane Smith, and I have had the pleasure of being John Doe’s 11th grade English teacher at Springfield High School for the past year. I am writing this letter upon John’s request in support of his application for the ABC Scholarship.”

Keep the introduction 1-2 paragraphs. Quickly establish your background and credentials to establish your credibility.

How to Structure a Reference Letters for Students

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs are the most important part of your letter. This is where you provide detailed information about the student’s qualifications, character, and achievements that make them deserving of the scholarship or opportunity.

Each body paragraph should focus on a specific theme or qualification that is relevant to the purpose of the letter. Here are some examples of themes to focus on:

Academic Performance

Provide details about the student’s academic record, intelligence, work ethic, and potential for future success. Mention specific coursework, grades, awards, and accomplishments.

“In my English class, John has consistently produced outstanding essays and research papers. He earned an A average last semester, along with the 11th Grade Honors Award for achieving the highest GPA out of all students in his grade level. John has mastered analyzing complex literature and always contributes thoughtful commentary to class discussions.”

Leadership Skills

Give examples of the student demonstrating leadership potential through participation in clubs, sports teams, or volunteer work. Mention any offices held.

“As founder and President of our school’s Green Club, John has displayed exceptional leadership skills in organizing campus clean-up days, petition drives, recycling programs, and other environmental initiatives. Under his leadership, club membership has doubled over the past year.”

Personality Traits

Comment on the student’s character, attitude, maturity level, reliability, ethics, talents, and other personal qualities that enable success.

“I have been impressed by John’s level of maturity and his eagerness to help others. He is highly dependable, completing all assignments on time and always willing to assist classmates. John has a very upbeat attitude and encouraging way of motivating those around him.”


Note any talents, growth, or future potential you see in the student that make them worthy of the opportunity.

“John has made incredible progress in developing his writing skills this year. With his natural talent and dedication to learning, I believe he has tremendous potential to excel in a challenging English program at the university level and beyond.”

Diversity/Obstacles Overcome

If relevant, mention any special circumstances, challenges, or backgrounds that provide additional perspectives.

“Having immigrated to the United States only three years ago, John has rapidly adapted to American culture while helping educate his peers about his Colombian heritage through student presentations. His willingness to engage with diverse viewpoints is extremely admirable.”

Aim for 4-6 body paragraphs, each 3-5 sentences long. Choose varying themes to provide a multifaceted perspective and well-rounded endorsement. Only include information you feel comfortable with and can expand on if necessary.


Wrap up your reference letter with a conclusion emphasizing your strong recommendation of the student. For example:

“John’s outstanding academic track record, leadership capabilities, self-motivation, and well-rounded interests make him an exceptional candidate for the ABC Scholarship. I highly recommend John Doe without any reservation, and I am confident that he has the potential for significant achievements at the collegiate level and beyond. Please feel free to contact me if you would like any additional information.”

Keep the conclusion to 1-2 paragraphs. Restate your support for the student and offer your contact information.

Letter Format Tips

Here are some additional tips for formatting your reference letter:

  • Address the letter to a specific person if possible, rather than a generic “To whom it may concern.”
  • If the letter will be printed, use professional letterhead if you have it.
  • Use a standard business letter format. Open with your contact information at the top, followed by the date.
  • Use clear, concise sentences that are enthusiastic but professional in tone.
  • Limit the letter to 1-2 pages.
  • Proofread carefully for any spelling or grammar errors.
  • Print and sign the hard copy if required, leaving space for your signature above your typed name.

By following these recommendations, you can write an effective reference letter that makes a compelling case for admitting or hiring the student. See the example letter below for a full visual reference.

Example Reference Letter

March 15, 2023

Scholarship Committee

ABC Foundation

123 Education Way Springfield, MA 01105

Dear Scholarship Committee Members,

I am pleased to write this letter of recommendation for John Doe in support of his application for the ABC Scholarship. As John’s 11th grade English teacher at Springfield High School for the past academic year, I have had the opportunity to witness his talents and work ethic firsthand.

In my class, John has consistently demonstrated an advanced ability to analyze complex literature and build sophisticated arguments to support his perspectives. His essays and research papers were exceptionally well-written, thoughtful, and insightful. John achieved top grades on all his assignments and earned an A average for the year. He also received the school’s 11th Grade Honors Award for achieving the highest grade point average out of all students in his class.

Beyond his stellar academic performance, John has impressed me with his self-motivation, intellectual curiosity, and leadership capabilities. As founder and president of our school’s Green Club, he has displayed great initiative in organizing environmental programs for the campus and community. His petition drives and recycling initiatives have directly benefited our school. Under his leadership, club membership has doubled within a year.

John’s interpersonal skills and maturity also stand out. He has a courteous and encouraging manner when interacting with both peers and teachers. John is extraordinarily dependable, participating actively in class and completing all assignments in a timely fashion. He is more than willing to go above and beyond expectations.

With his natural writing talents and sharp analytical mind, I am confident that John has the potential to continue excelling at the collegiate level and beyond. His personal qualities like leadership, responsibility, and empathy will enable him to be an asset to any academic program or organization. John Doe has my highest recommendation without reservation, and I am sure he has a bright future ahead.

Please feel free to contact me at or 123-456-7890 if you would like any additional information about John Doe’s qualifications. I would be happy to expand on my recommendation.


Jane Smith

English Teacher

Springfield High School


This structured reference letter provides a glowing recommendation for a student by highlighting their academic achievements, leadership activities, personal qualities, and potential for future success. Following the standard business letter format along with the outlined tips for content, length, and style will ensure your letter stands out. A well-written reference could make all the difference as selection committees decide on scholarship recipients and admissions. Use your letter to give a deserving student the convincing endorsement they need to accomplish their educational and professional aspirations.

Following these tips can help you write an outstanding reference letter that makes a difference in a student’s educational or professional path. Be sure to highlight their most impressive qualifications and articulate why they deserve the opportunity. Your reference could be a pivotal factor in their success.

Frequently Asked Questions About Reference Letters for Students

Writing a compelling reference letter is key to helping a student get accepted for an opportunity. Here are answers to some common questions about reference letters for students:

What makes a strong reference letter?

A strong reference letter highlights a student’s academic performance, skills, character, leadership potential, and other qualifications that make them suited for the opportunity. Focus on their most relevant strengths. Use vivid examples when possible. Emphasize their potential for future success.

What should I avoid including in a reference letter?

Avoid unsubstantiated praise or exaggeration. Don’t mention any weaknesses or limitations of the student unless you provide context for improvement. Avoid overly personal comments or confidential information. Also avoid potential biases related to race, religion, gender, or other protected attributes.

How should I format the reference letter?

Use a standard business letter format. Open with your contact information, the date, and the addressee. Address the letter to a specific person if possible. Use clear, concise paragraphs with a clear introduction, 4-6 body paragraphs focused on key themes, and a 1-2 paragraph conclusion. Sign a printed letter if required.

Who should write a reference letter?

Teachers, counselors, coaches, employers, religious leaders, or other mentors familiar with the student’s abilities and character make good references. Choose someone who can emphasize the student’s most relevant qualifications. Avoid family members providing references.

What information do I need to provide in the letter?

Mention your relationship to the student, background and credentials, detailed examples of performance and qualifications, information on growth and potential, and an overview of why they deserve the opportunity. Provide concrete evidence to back up your comments.

How should I send the letter?

Ask the student how the letter should be submitted, whether by email, online form, or printed copy. Print on professional letterhead if available. Follow any additional instructions provided in the application. Send the letter in advance of the deadline.

What length should the letter be?

Aim for 1-2 pages single spaced or 400-800 words. Long enough to provide sufficient detail, but concise and to the point. Follow any guidelines specified by the organization or institution requesting the letter.

Should I mention challenges or obstacles the student faced?

If relevant to explaining difficulties in their background, you can briefly mention challenges they overcame that provide perspective or demonstrate resilience and determination. Focus primarily on their qualifications and potential, not their limitations.

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