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Vocab Help for College Recommendation Letters

written by: Destiny Keller•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/9/2011

A college recommendation letter can make or break a student’s chances of getting in when competition is tough. That is why it is important to take everything seriously from the information you provide about a student, to the vocabulary for writing college recommendation letters.

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    Before you get started, you will want to make sure you have everything you need from the student. The better you know the student, the less information you should need. Some basic things to ask from the student are their personal statement, so you can see the way they are trying to portray themselves. If you don't know the student very well, it would also be a good idea to ask for a resume and any extracurricular activities they have partaken in.

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    Things To Include

    When you start writing your letter of recommendation, there are some essential components to be sure to include. Be sure to explain how you know the student, and if it has been for a year or over, be sure to mention that. When you get into the main part of your letter, describe a few important qualities the student possesses, some that may set them apart from other students who may be applying. No matter how much you want the student to succeed, it is important to be positive but honest. Stretching the truth about something like their achievements could end up hurting them instead of helping.

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    Vocabulary To Use

    If you are writing a letter of recommendation for a girl, be careful in the way you describe them. According to a study by Rice University, people often describe women as potential leaders, or people who take direction well. They found that men were often described as already leaders and have direction. Try not to fall into this pattern if you can help it. Keep this in mind, and know that vocabulary can make or break a letter. Here are a few other important tips about word choice for writing college recommendations.

    Powerful Words – Don't be afraid of powerful words. Try stretching your writing vocabulary and use words such as insightful, creative, intuitive, intellectual, and so on. These words tend to pop out more in a letter, and give more insight to what the student is like.

    Social Skills – Social skills are important to address when students have these qualities. Be sure to include information such as ability to communicate well, can make quick decisions, or can handle stressful situation well. Try to think of skills critical for college that they already have, and include that in your letter.

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    Vocab to Avoid

    Bland Words – Try to avoid bland words. The same words your English teacher told you to stay away from all those years ago. Words like good, nice, reasonable, decent, etc…. These words don’t pop out to readers, and could be more harmful than helpful. Readers might be wondering they might be good, but why aren't they great? What is holding them back from being great?

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    An Honor

    By using vocabulary, and getting as much information about the student as you can, you can write them an excellent letter of recommendation. As you can see, word choice plays an important role, as well as your actual opinion of the student. If you think you need more help in writing a letter, try using a sample letter or a template. If you feel you do not know the student well enough, or cannot write an honest positive recommendation, do not be afraid to ask them to find someone else. However, students usually need one to three letters of recommendation, and being asked to write one should be somewhat of an honor. If you feel confident in the ability to write an honest positive letter for them, write it and be proud, as one of your pupils is moving on to great things!