Reference Letter Samples for Students and Recent Grads

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At many stages of their education, high school and college students require reference letters. At this point, a recommendation can really make the difference as to whether or not a student is accepted to their graduate school of choice, given the opportunity to volunteer for a non-profit organization, or lands a coveted corporate 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 specifically designed for high school students, college students, and recent graduates. They include character references, references from teachers, and graduate school references.

Personalize Your Letters

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 and Recent Graduate Resumes and Letters

Sample Student Reference Letters

College Reference Letters

What to Include in a Letter of Reference 

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 mention that you feel others might be able to provide a fuller, more personalized recommendation. 

Make Sure You Have Enough Information

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 receive requests to write recommendation letters may want to develop a questionnaire for students 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.

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 you know the date the letter needs to be written by. If at all possible, write the letter within a day or two of receiving the request. This will avoid the letter being buried and forgotten under piles of essays or exams that need to be graded.