Faculty & Staff FAQ
As much as possible, your letter should show that you know the student. Schools hope to gain insight into a candidate's promise as a professional student. They value honesty and candor from the writer. Letter that reflect real knowledge of an applicant's performance and character are the most useful to the admissions committee and to the candidate. A letter that is a couple of paragraphs long that recaps a students resume and has a lot of generalities may be complementary, but it isn't helpful. Providing the student's grade, which they already have, isn't helpful and is against FERPA laws.
- Ask the applicant to provide information. Their personal statement, resume, papers, assignments, whatever will help you. Your letter should dovetail with their application--not duplicate it. Try to provide information not available elsewhere in the application.
- Briefly describe your role in evaluating the applicant and comparing them to other students.
- Describe how well and in what context you know the applicant.
- Choose 2-3 qualities that you have observed in the applicant. In discussing those qualities, support your statements by describing specific instances where you saw those qualities demonstrated. Be as concrete and detailed as possible.
- Avoid generalities or platitudes.
- It is fine to include mild criticism and areas that the student should work on.
- If you have knowledge of special circumstances that have affected the applicant's performance, describe the circumstance and describe your assessment of their true ability.
- Discuss the applicant's potential for success in rigorous graduate work.
For law school applicants, you might want to comment on some of these competencies.
For health care applicants, the Association of American Medical Colleges has written core competencies which they like to see discussed in letters and prepared Guidelines for Writing Letters of Evaluation. The other healthcare fields want to know about the same competencies.