How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself

This post contains affiliate links (at no extra cost to you). Please read our disclosure for more information.

These are some quick tips for how to write a letter of recommendation for yourself:

  1. Create an outline by entering your skills and strengths into a template.
  2. Use the proper voice.
  3. State the letter’s purpose immediately, followed by an explanation of how your reference knows you.
  4. Be confident in the writing.

As students apply for medical school, many find themselves faced with an unusual challenge: how to write a letter of recommendation for yourself.

Letters of recommendation are a big deal in your application.  You may be nervous about approaching your professor at all.  It can be gut-wrenching to be told “no” when asked for a letter.

But even if your professor doesn’t say no, they might not say “yes,” either.  In fact, they might ask you to write the letter yourself.  Many professors simply don’t have the time to write an individual letter for every student who asks.  If they know you’re a good student, they may give you permission to write your own.

This is both ethical and commonplace.  As long as your professor knows you’re writing the recommendation under their name, you aren’t doing anything wrong.  You also get access to a part of the application process that students aren’t usually able to influence.  You can highlight your strengths and passions much more accurately than your professor.

In this guide, you’ll find How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself examples, templates, step-by-step instructions, and quick tips.  There’s everything you need to know about how to write a recommendation letter for yourself that will highlight your desirability as a candidate.

Still Studying for the MCAT? Start Here

Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself Template

Writer Name

Writer Qualifications and University

Address

Town, State, Postal Code

Phone Number or Email Address

Date of Writing

Recommendation for Student Name

Proper Greeting,

This is an introduction paragraph in which I will explain my own qualifications and relationship to the student.  I will put my thesis about the student’s strengths here.  I am using a traditional letter template and formal formatting.

This paragraph focuses on a single qualification and how the student has demonstrated it to me, using quantitative facts.

This paragraph does the same with a different characteristic.

Paragraph Four does the same with yet another characteristic.

This is my short conclusion, where I reiterate that the student is a strong candidate for admission.

Formal Closing,

Writer Name

I will proofread all of the above before mailing the letter.

Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Own Recommendation Letter

1. Format with a traditional letter template.

Formatting is key.  The ideal recommendation letter is short, sweet, and to the point.  It highlights the student’s achievements and desirable qualities, but it doesn’t ramble on forever.

Refer to the template above.  The writer’s contact information should be in the upper right, along with the date.  You can use “Recommendation for Student Name” as a heading.

A recommendation letter should never be more than five paragraphs long.  State three qualifications or characteristics in your introduction, and then focus one paragraph on each.  Your conclusion should be a quick summary, 2 or 3 lines at the most.

The letter should be plain and easy to read.  Use Times New Roman or Arial fonts in 11 or 12 point sizing.  Keep your margins at 1 inch.  Make sure that everything fits on a single page.

The single page is one of the most important things.  Like a resume, a recommendation letter should have everything you need on one sheet of paper.  If the letter rambles for pages, the admissions board will consider it a waste of time.

Even if the letter only has a few lines on a second page, it will look sloppy to the admissions board.  First impressions make a huge difference.  Be aware of yours.

2. Write a proper address.

A recommendation letter should start out with a formal address.

A popular choice is To Whom It May Concern.  This will work well if you don’t know anything about who will read the letter.  But if you’re aware that you’re sending it to an admissions board or committee, address it to them specifically.

Dear Admissions Committee may sound too informal, but it’s actually a preferred form of address for many institutions.  To Whom It May Concern can come across as antiquated and too formal.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you should not mention the medical school by name.  Don’t address the letter to the specific school admissions committee, and don’t address it to the school itself.

3. Write a strong introduction paragraph.

A strong introduction paragraph tells the reader everything they need to know about the author’s stance.  It will explain who the author is, why they are making the recommendation, and what specific qualities the student exemplifies.

The first sentence should include the author’s title, responsibilities, and current relationship to the student.  You can specify how long you’ve been working with the student and what responsibilities the student has.  

Choose three achievements, characteristics, or qualities that show you’re valuable to a medical school.  Explain that these are the reasons the student is an excellent candidate for admission.  This is your main thesis.

Avoid cliches like “I’m pleased to recommend” or “I am honored to recommend.”  Instead, write the facts in a straightforward and easy-to-read manner.  Admissions reviewers read hundreds of recommendation letters a day, and fluffy cliches will make them stop paying attention.

Keep your introduction paragraph as concise as possible.  Don’t expand upon the qualities or achievements you’ve chosen; that’s the next step.  Try for a length of about four lines.

4. Write 2 to 4 follow-up paragraphs.

Now that you’ve chosen your characteristics and achievements, it’s time to write about them.  Dedicate a paragraph to each.  You can choose anywhere from two to four total points, but three is a pretty good average.

In the first sentence of each paragraph, explain how the student managed this achievement or exemplified this characteristic.  Use concrete examples.

For example, if you’re saying that the student studies hard, you can discuss their past grades.  You can talk about how they’ve attended office hours, run study groups, or asked for feedback regarding specific mistakes.  You can talk about their note-taking skills, their ability to work with others, and their dedication to memorizing the reading.

If you’re saying that the student is compassionate, you might introduce an anecdote.  Maybe the student developed a special relationship with a specific clinic patient.  Perhaps they wrote a moving piece about what caring for others means to them.  They also could have consistently worked well with a group of vulnerable patients, such as children or the elderly.

If you’re talking about specific achievements, you can explain exactly what the student has done.  It might be research, admittance to graduate-level courses, creation of new teaching materials, hands-on innovation, excellent grades, scholarship awards, or any other number of things.  Tell the reader about the achievement and how it makes the student an ideal candidate for admission.

5. Conclude by restating your points.

Your conclusion should be the shortest paragraph in the letter.  It should be just one or two sentences that restates your point.  “I believe Student Name will be an excellent doctor because of X, Y, and Z.  For these reasons, I strongly recommend their acceptance into your institution.

You don’t need to go overboard.  Just express your thesis in a positive, concise way.  That helps the information to stick in the reader’s mind.

6. Formally close the letter.

Now you can use a formal closing for the letter.  There are a great deal of different formal closings that you might use.  Ideally, yours will either wish the reader well or thank them for their time.

The closing won’t make or break the letter.  But if you choose the wrong closing, you might distract the reader.  At worst, you might come off as rude or inappropriate.  Closings are considered an important aspect of formal letter writing, so if you don’t use one at all, you’ll appear impolite.

Some examples of letter closures include:

  • Regards
  • Best wishes
  • Respectfully
  • Cordially
  • With appreciation
  • With gratitude
  • With sincere thanks
  • Thank you

Cordially” works best if you know the individual who will be reading the letter.  “Respectfully” may not be necessary here, since an esteemed professor doesn’t need to pay extra respects to an admissions board.

Best wishes” is a generic way of wishing the recipient well.  “With gratitude” and “With sincere thanks” are both ways to tell the recipient that you appreciate the time they took to read the letter.

Ultimately, the closing is up to you.  It will depend on what you feel best fits the tone of the letter.  Underneath the closing, put the professor’s name.

7. Proofread your draft.

Keep in mind that this letter will be read by a college admissions board.  You want the letter to accomplish several things:

  • It should appear to be written by a successful professional.
  • It should highlight your best qualities.
  • It should include specific details that set you apart from your peers.
  • It should be respectful of the reader’s time.

Proofreading is the best way to make sure you tick all these boxes.

First, double-check your grammar and spelling.  You can run the sentences through an online tool for basic mistakes but you should also ask a peer to review the copy.  One neat tip is to change the font as you edit – this will make you more likely to notice mistakes.

Next, make sure that your sentences are concise.  Each sentence should have a single point and lack superfluous language.  If there are any sentences that can be removed without erasing vital information, get rid of them.  Once you’re finished, your letter should have as much specific information as possible while still being quick and easy to read.

Finally, edit for flow.  Read your sentences aloud.  Are they choppy or clunky?  Awkward or stilted?  Do they have too many adjectives?  Do they all start with the same word?  Are the sentence lengths and structures varied throughout?  It’s much easier to parse a document that’s pleasant to read.

Once you’ve made these edits, proofread for grammar and spelling again.  You really don’t want a pesky typo in a rewritten sentence to ruin the letter’s appeal.

FAQ: Navigating Your Feelings on Writing Your Own Letter

Is it ethical to write your own letter of recommendation?

Writing your own recommendation letter might sound like an ethical minefield, but it actually isn’t.  It’s very common for professors to ask students to write their own recommendation letters, and then for the professor to review and sign the document.

Professors may do this for a variety of reasons.  Some of the most common include:

  • They have many students requesting recommendation letters, and they do not have time to write individual ones for each person.
  • They are juggling multiple classes, patients, and office hours, so they don’t have time to write a single recommendation letter.
  • They are not confident in their own writing prowess, and they believe their student will write a more powerful letter.
  • They believe the student should choose what to highlight for an admissions board.
  • They simply find this process easier, and since they plan to review the letter before sending it, there’s no chance of a “false” letter being sent.

Ghostwriting is ok, writing without permission is not.

Now, if you’re writing a recommendation letter and sending it under your professor’s name without their knowledge, then that’s an unethical action.  It may also be unethical to send the letter before having your professor review and approve it.  But ghostwriting itself is not unethical.  Many professionals use ghostwriters to articulate their thoughts.

The goal of an admissions board or grad school administrator is to find the best candidates for their school.  If your professor is a weak writer, you may not get the emphasis you need.  By writing the letter yourself, you ensure that you present your best self with your best possible writing.

If the school forbids ghostwriting, then writing your own letter is unethical.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are some graduate schools with applications that specifically forbid ghostwriting.  There is no way to evaluate or enforce this rule.  People who break it will have an advantage over people who don’t, which is frustrating.  But breaking the specific application rules would be an unethical decision.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your professor will review your letter.  If they don’t agree with what you’ve written, they can modify the draft.  They can even start over from scratch if they disagree strongly enough.  Since your professor mails the letter, you don’t actually know what the final draft will look like.

As long as your professor has control over the final product, there’s nothing wrong with ghostwriting your own draft.

How can I respond if I’m not comfortable writing my own letter of recommendation?

If you’ve considered all of the above information on how to write a letter of recommendation for yourself, and you still aren’t comfortable with creating your own letter of recommendation, there are a few steps you can take.

Refusing

The first option is to simply refuse.  Your professor might request that you write your own recommendation, but a request is not the same as a demand.

With that said, there can be repercussions for this.  You might cause your professor to feel antagonistic toward you.  They may be less inclined to write you a positive recommendation letter, or to get the letter written on time at all.  If your professor feels that you’re demanding something from them, especially when they’re already busy, they will be irritated.

Refusing but presenting an alternative

If you do refuse writing the letter of recommendation by yourself, you can request a one-on-one meeting with your professor.  Bring your resume, your personal essay, and an outline of the key qualities you’ve demonstrated for the professor.  Include details like the course names, your grades, and the projects you’ve done.

This makes it easy for your professor to write the recommendation without hunting down all the information.  It also makes you much more likely to get a well-written letter mailed on time.

There’s also a middle ground for those who aren’t comfortable refusing their professor outright.  Rather than bringing reference materials alone or writing the entire letter by yourself, you can work on most of the letter.

You can write an outline or body without writing the whole letter

Maybe after reading this article on how to write a letter of recommendation for yourself, you realize that you’re not comfortable with formal greetings or letter formatting.  If that’s the case, you can create the body of the letter instead.  Create a thesis that explains different qualities that your professor can vouch for.  With each quality, create a list of bullet points with specific achievements, data points, anecdotes, and other facts that your professor can corroborate.

You can provide your professor with a full outline that includes all the necessary research and organization.  This will make it much easier for them to transcribe sentences and format the letter using a formal template.

The biggest key is that you want to make your professor’s life easier.  Most likely, they’ve asked you to write your own letter because they simply don’t have time.  It’s important to show them that you respect their time and expertise.  Your professor has better things to do than chase down your old grades and hunt for your old projects.

And keep in mind that there’s nothing unethical about ghostwriting your recommendation letter.  The only reason you might refuse is if you’re not confident in your letter writing skills or your chosen medical school has forbidden this.

Recommendation Letter for Yourself Example:

Jane Johnson, MD, PhD

Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Boston University

300 Doe Road

Boston, MA 12345

professorsemail@school.edu

January 3, 2021

Recommendation for Abigail Lee

Dear Members of the Admissions Board,

As a Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Boston University, I’ve had the pleasure of working with students like Abigail Lee for multiple years. I believe that Abigail has the drive, focus, knowledge, and temperament of a future doctor.  She consistently goes above and beyond in her studies, and she has proven an excellent teacher herself.

Abigail first enrolled in my Intro to Anatomy course as a freshman.  Though this is a large class, Abigail regularly attended office hours to ask for advice and discuss the recent lecture.  After she received straight As in her first semester, I made her my junior TA.  She helped with study sections, graded tests, and evaluated papers.  I was consistently impressed by her accuracy and insight.

In her junior year, Abigail joined a course I teach collaboratively with the neuroscience department.  She is the only undergraduate student I have ever admitted to this graduate-level course.  Throughout the year, she learned about the link between cardiovascular patients and stroke victims.  When working with real patients in the university’s clinic, I was impressed by her kindness, patience, and willingness to listen.

This was best captured by her relationship with a young patient named Debbie.  Most clinic patients were older, but Debbie was only eleven.  She had been born with an atrial defect and had already undergone eight reconstructive surgeries when Abigail met her.  Abigail was able to cheer her up and keep her comfortable throughout a variety of uncomfortable tests.  Her mother later told me that Debbie actually looked forward to seeing Abigail at her appointments.

In a career spanning almost thirty years, I have rarely seen a student as hardworking and compassionate as Abigail Lee. I believe she will be a credit to both her medical school and the healthcare field.  For these reasons, I enthusiastically recommend her admission.

All the best,

Jane Johnson

Conclusion

You might be uncertain about how to write your own letter of recommendation.  That’s okay!  As long as you follow the steps in this guide, you should have no problem drafting and editing an ideal form.

As long as your professor has given you permission, there’s nothing unethical about writing a letter of recommendation for yourself.  They approve the final version, so you’re just articulating what they would say themselves.  This is your chance to really shine before an admissions board.  Take a deep breath, be confident, and showcase all the hard working qualities that got you to this point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • ascent student loan logo

    Need a Student Loan?

    Apply Now & Earn a $100 Cash Bonus!

  • BLACK FRIDAY & CYBER MONDAY SAVINGS