A letter of recommendation is a formal introduction letter. The letter recommends your child for a college or job, and is the first formal introduction of your child in writing. A letter of recommendation is often required during the college admission process, which you should start working on in the first month of senior year.
The character qualities and abilities of your child are described in a letter of recommendation, demonstrating their fitness for the college or job. It should describe the great attributes the student will bring to campus or the workplace, explaining how they will function at the next level.
The best letter of recommendation will be written by an adult who knows your child well and can write competently. They might be written by community college instructors, or employers or supervisors from apprenticeships, internships, and job experiences. Each letter writer should be eager and willing to write a glowing recommendation without hesitation. A glowing recommendation is more likely from someone who knows the student by name, and can comment on their work ethic. A letter of recommendation can be great outside documentation of exactly what your child is about, and how they are qualified to attend that college or get that job offer.
Letters of recommendation are usually written by people outside the family. Letters need to be timely, written within a few months of when they are needed so the content is seen as current. They must be confidential, so you won’t see the letter because it is usually mailed directly to the organization and not given to the student. Letters of recommendation must be personal, from someone who knows the child well. They must be well-written, by someone with strong writing skills. Letters must also be authoritative, from someone who fits the role requested.
There are times when a parent will need to write a letter of recommendation, or the recommender is confused about how to start writing a letter. You may be called upon to write a letter of recommendation for a homeschooler you know.
Let me explain how to think through letters of recommendation, and how to plan ahead for them. Then I’ll give you a thorough explanation and outline in case you need to write a letter of recommendation for your child or another homeschooler.
Step 1. Think and Plan
Ask for a letter of recommendation one or two months prior to each deadline, because it takes quite a bit of time to complete the job. Plan to ask for letters of recommendation during the first month of senior year, but before senior year, there are things you can do to plan ahead for great recommendations.
Plan ahead and encourage high school activities that can lead to glowing recommendations. Finding activities and experiences your child loves is the first step. Find activities that fit your child’s interests and encourage them to develop close relationships with professors or adults in leadership positions.
Great recommendations come from two sources. The first is an expert, such as a teacher, tutor, or college professor who can talk about the student’s educational preparation. Experiences with ranching could lead to an expert ranch owner talking about the student’s expertise with animals. If you are planning to use community college classes to replace or supplement junior and senior year, college teachers may be a great source of recommendations. Plan ahead, and tell your child to get to know their professors. They can sit in the front row, ask questions, visit during office hours, and participate in class so professors know who they are by name.
The second is a character recommendation, from someone who can speak to the content of the student’s character, someone who knows their heart, such as a pastor or team leader. This person may or may not know anything about your child’s home education, but can speak about their personal characteristics.
In a public school setting, students request a recommendation from their guidance counselor, who probably doesn’t know them unless they have been in trouble. The counselor will look at their academic record and request a resume or interest list, so they can say something specific about the student. This is not the best kind of recommendation. In a homeschool setting, the student requests a letter of recommendation from an adult they know well. You can plan ahead by providing the recommender with a copy of the homeschool transcript , plus an activity list or resume, so they have a fuller view of the student's abilities.
Step 2. Assess and Investigate
Ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who knows your child well and writes well.
Think of it this way, the letter is an expert witness written report on the character and abilities of the person being recommended. This person must be an expert in your child and their abilities. And they have to act like an expert by possessing the ability to write well.
How do you know that someone writes well? Most teachers, pastors, professors, and professionals are used to writing recommendations. Others may struggle with the task, or may not write in a well-organized fashion. Look at their casual written interactions by email, on Facebook posts, and in Christmas letters. Do you notice typos, grammar issues, or other problems?
Step 3. Ask and Inform
The teenager should request the recommendation politely, in person, and provide additional details the recommender may not already know.
This is the important part. It should definitely be the teenager who requests the recommendation, not the parent. The student does all the requesting, the student does all the follow-up, and the student is the one who sends a thank you note. This request should be done in person, if possible, not by email.
When requesting a letter of recommendation, it’s best to ask an open-ended question, allowing them the opportunity to decline without giving an explanation. “Would you be able to write a positive recommendation for my college application this month?” The request should be made at least five or six weeks before the due date. The more time you give, the better. A great recommendation is not easy to write, and the process can take a significant amount of time for a busy professional. On the other hand, once they have written a letter, it’s easy to modify it to send to multiple colleges or scholarship organizations.
Be considerate of the person’s time. It’s extremely important to request the recommendation early in the application process. Even if your child sees this person regularly and makes the initial request in person, make sure they send a formal, written follow-up request via email, with all the details. Your child should give their full name and explain why they need the recommendation.
Once the person has agreed to write, the student can provide more details about their interests and experiences. I suggest giving the recommender their transcript and activity list. After all, the writer may only be familiar with one aspect of the child’s education, and providing this material can give them the opportunity to get to know the student better.
Include the instructions for completing the recommendation. Usually the recommender will have to physically sign the letter and mail it directly to the college or organization. Parents and students don’t usually see the letter that is mailed. For this reason, you want to be certain the recommender will give a glowing recommendation, so allowing them to decline the request easily is important.
When letters of recommendation are required, look carefully at the details of the request. A college may have specific requirements for a letter of recommendation, such as “in a sealed, signed envelope” or “mail separately.” The student should follow up right away after a recommender agrees to write a letter, providing an addressed stamped envelope, or login information with clear instructions how to submit the letter online.
The student should personally follow up on the process and check with the college or employer to be sure the letter of recommendation was received. If necessary, the student may need to speak to the recommender again, and gently remind them about the letter. Follow up after two weeks, so they still have time to ask someone else if necessary. Once the letter has arrived, be sure to have your child send a formal, hand-written thank you note to the recommender.
It is preferable for all recommendations to come from non-relatives. On the other hand, some colleges require a letter of recommendation from the school counselor – and that’s you! If they ask for a letter of recommendation from a parent, then give it to them without complaint. They often want it so they can check off a box on the application. Don’t over-think it, simply provide one.
Here is the key to recommending your own child: compliment, don’t critique. This is one time it’s OK to brag about your child. You should say good things, not any bad stuff, about your teen. Parents may also be asked to write a recommendation for a student outside their home.
4. How to Write a Recommendation
Follow these clear, how-to instructions for parents and others who are new to the art of writing a recommendation.
A letter of recommendation is a letter of introduction, but it also should have a clear recommendation at the end – not unlike giving a grade. If you can’t give a good recommendation, you may want to decline the offer of writing one for the student. Here is the key to what specific recommendations mean:
1. “I strongly recommend” means you are extremely confident of the student’s ability to be successful.
2. “I recommend” means you are reasonably confident in the student.
3. “I recommend with reservations” means the recommender isn't sure of the student, or has specific hesitations. Avoid writing a letter if you must use this level of recommendation.
4. “I do not recommend” means the recommender believes the student would not be a good match for the school, and will not likely succeed. Avoid writing this one as well.
Beyond this clear statement of recommendation at the end, a letter of recommendation has some key ingredients. Include strong words that describe the student. Write vivid examples demonstrating the student's qualities. It should be a well-written essay with professional structure.
Prewriting and Brainstorming
Begin the letter by brainstorming your ideas and concepts, so you have specific words and examples to include.
1. Brainstorm character qualities of the student
2. Brainstorm specific examples of those character qualities
3. Consider and collect key phrases
4. Brainstorm strong words for the conclusion
Look over this list to get you started, and think about what might fit the student you are describing, highlighting what is useful. Strong words indicate the likelihood of success in that college or job. Concrete examples of these qualities are proof of authenticity.
Strong Words and Phrases
Follow a Formal Format
A formal letter will not talk about elementary school or junior high experiences. It will not mention grade levels before ninth grade, and will reference only high school years. Don’t include personal matters that are not related to the purpose of the letter, such as a divorce or other family experience. The letter should only be about the student, not the writer of the letter or the student’s family situation.
When a parent is writing a letter, it’s important not to sound like a mommy or daddy. Don’t talk about your child’s annoying habits or their weaknesses, and brainstorm enough strengths to fill the letter. Don’t talk about your other children, or how overwhelming or difficult it was to homeschool. This is not a letter about you or your family history. It is a letter about your child who is nearly an adult.
The Benefits of Letters of Recommendation
A well-written letter of recommendation is amazing outside documentation of your student’s preparation. Written by someone who knows your child well and writes competently, this letter can have a huge payoff. Plan ahead for success!
How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation - Step by Step! (Click it to Pin it!)
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school . Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com.
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