Recommendation Letter

A student volunteer at my wife’s clinic has asked her for a letter of recommendation for PA school. My wife has never written one before and needs some tips and pointers. Help? Oh, my wife is a PA too.

Thanks in advance!

I’m not sure what a PA school is: neither fathers nor Pennsylvanias make a lot of sense.

What I do for letters of rec is:

  1. General statement about level of recommendation: neutral, high, or very high. (There is no low: low is not writing the letter.)

  2. Short paragraph on how you know the student: in what capacity, for how long.

  3. Short paragraph on the student’s personal / exceptional / remarkable / unique qualities, and / or why you think he / she will succeed in the program being applied for.

  4. Closing statements: contact me for further details, that sort of thing.

Shorter letters that are sparse on detail look lukewarm, so if you’re not lukewarm but just don’t have much to say, make that clear.

I’ll add the following to the good advice above:

  1. How you would rate the student against others who have worked for you. (Of course, omitting it if low.) That gets rid of the “they are all wonderful” objection.

  2. Specific instances where the student shown. “She is excellent” is less powerful than “she accomplished task X in half the time expected and came up with an idea of how to do task Y better.”

Since a clinic was mentioned, I’m going to guess Physician’s Assistant.

Also very important - DO NOT LIE. Her reputation is being used to benefit someone else. That’s fine, as long as it’s accurate. But if she exaggerates or lies, and the employee doesn’t work out, she loses credibility.

It may not come back to her…but it might.


Also, tell her to get someone to review it before submitting! I required a few reference letters for my university program application and one of them sent it in without letting me see it first. Some people just aren’t good spellers or have problems with writing in general, but boy does the letter come across as unprofessional. Ugh.

While this is probably something to keep in mind, it would have to be brought up with a fair amount of tact. And certainly, if someone is writing a letter on your behalf, it’s generally understood you don’t have the right to vet what the writer says about you in any way; that way, the recommendation is thought of to be the writer’s unvarnished opinion, rather than being written in a more politic manner. (That’s not to say that the writer can’t offer to show you the letter — merely that it’s out of line to ask the writer to reveal what he/she wrote about you.)