The three sample recommendation letters that follow, which you can download by clicking on the link below, are effective because they detail what makes the students stand out as exceptional and because they paint individual pictures of each student. Note how these excerpts, excerpted from each of the three letters, individualize and humanize the student:
“I have been especially impressed by Janet’s determination and sparkle.”
“I enthusiastically supported her application for the student position on the Mythic University Board of Trustees for the same reasons. She was the runner-up for that distinguished post, and Mythic University lost out on a true leader. But I believe her time is yet to come.”
“In short, John is both scholarly and culturally entrenched, ambitious but not pretentious, self-deprecating yet confident, forthright but unassuming, delightfully irreverent yet appropriately respectful—a complex and whole human being.”
In addition, the writers of these three letters take advantage of many of the rhetorical strategies discussed in Chapters 3 and 4 of this manual: enhancing their own credibility, narrative technique, anecdotal evidence, recommending by citing others, and using active verbs and transitions.
Finally, a late paragraph in the last letter, at the prompting of the graduate scholarship application, even provides a few criticisms of the student. Because these criticisms are offered even-handedly and efficiently, I would argue that the letter has even more ethos, and it is noteworthy that the student still landed the desired scholarship.
Click here to download a pdf of three sample graduate school recommendation letters.