Reference Letter Samples for Students

Reference Letter Samples for High School and College Students

Letter on desk
kyoshino / Getty Images

At many stages of their education, high school and college students require reference letters. At this level, a recommendation can really make the difference as to whether a student is accepted to their graduate school of choice, given the opportunity to volunteer for a non-profit organization, or lands a coveted job interview.

While an essay and transcript provide a lot of information, application materials may not give a full sense of a student's personality, drive, reliability, and academic skills.

Reference letters from teachers and guidance counselors offer this necessary insight and information about a student's character. 

The following sample reference letters are especially designed for high school students, college students, and recent graduates and include character references, references from teachers, and graduate school references.

While they provide a good starting point, remember that the most effective letters of recommendation are those that are highly personalized, providing unique examples of your student’s personality, accomplishments, and contributions within your classroom. One size does *not* fit all when it comes to recommendation letters – it’s probably better to refuse to write a letter than to send one that is obviously the same template you use for all of your students.

Sample Student / Recent Graduate Resumes and Letters

Sample Student Reference Letters

College Reference Letters

What Teachers Should Include in a Letter of Reference for Students

If you are a teacher who has been asked to write a reference letter, be honest and forthright. Turn down a request if you anticipate that you would not feel comfortable writing a positive letter of support — this will give the student an opportunity to get a letter from a stronger advocate.

It can be awkward to do this, but it's really better for the student in the long run. You can always decline by saying that you simply do not have the time, or mentioning that you feel others might be able to provide a fuller, more personalized recommendation. 

Before you write the letter, find out some specifics about why the student needs it: A recommendation letter for dental school differs greatly from a letter in support of an application to art school or a letter for a summer job opportunity. Also make sure that you know the deadline by which the reference letter is due.

If at all possible, try to write the letter within a day or two of receiving the request. Otherwise, you – and your student – run the risk that the request will be buried and forgotten under piles of essays or exams that need to be graded.

If you do not know the student well, but still want to write the letter, you can request that the student provide you with background materials, including the student's resume, transcript, and a few paragraphs about goals and accomplishments. Busy teachers and guidance counselors who frequently get letter-writing requests may even want to develop a questionnaire for a requesting student to fill out.  

You might also ask the student which other teachers he or she has asked for a reference, and then have a private chat with them about the student’s strengths and potential.

References and Recommendations - Tips and Examples
Here you can find comprehensive information on reference and recommendation letters, sample letters of recommendation and reference lists, how to ask for a reference, and how to use references. There is also information on what reference checkers can ask about you and what previous employers can disclose.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation
Advice on how to write a letter of recommendation, including what to include in each section of the letter, how to send it, and sample letters of recommendation for employment and academics.