Tips for Writing Letters of Evaluation

Content of the Letter

1. Extent of Personal Contact with Applicant: Evaluations should indicate how well you know the applicant.

2. Academic Achievement: Comments should be made which amplify information on academic transcripts such as:

  • Academic achievement relative to other students in your classes.
  • Consistency of performance.
  • Extenuating circumstances, which might account for atypical grades or course loads such as illness, employment, or extensive extracurricular involvement.
  • Degree of difficulty of individual classes and overall course loads, e.g. upper division courses taken during freshman year, honors section, etc.
  • Approach to course work. Did the applicant follow through on assignments? Has he/she been interested in gaining mastery of material or in gaining a good grade? Does applicant work independently or merely follow the crowd?

3. Personal Attributes: The letter should attempt to provide insight into the applicant's personality and his/her interactions with others. Mention should be made of characteristics, which indicate special promise or potential problems. How well does the applicant organize his/her thoughts and communicate them? What evidence is there of his/her ability to work with others, judgment, emotional stability, reliability, organizational ability, and stamina? Descriptions of the applicant's actions in particular situations will lend strength to your comments.

4. Employment and Extracurricular Activities: Since these are listed on most applications, mention them only if you can supply details. Activities which indicate concern for others are of special interest. If involvement was extensive, it will be helpful if you can describe the effect on academic achievement.

5. Honors Received: Academic or non-academic, explain what achievement the honor rewards. Specify the competition or degree of selectivity of such awards.

6. Overall Evaluation: It is very helpful to make a value judgment which is an overall appraisal of the applicant's potential for professional and/or graduate school. This evaluation should be based on all attributes of the applicant, not merely academic performance.

While we realize that it is unrealistic to expect one person to answer all of these areas in depth, they do represent areas of information which might be addressed. Medical, dental, law and graduate schools value frankness. Schools also appreciate specific examples of the applicant's behavior rather than generalities. Admissions committees value most highly those letters that present a fair and balanced picture of the applicant.