Academic Reference Letter and Request Examples

This illustration shows what to know about academic reference letters, such as that it's a one- to two-page letter that highlights a student's academic history, character, and academic and/or career goals; it provides insight into what kind of student and/or potential employee they are; and it is often requested in a sealed envelope with the signature of the letter's author over the seal.
​Image by Maddy Price © The Balance

An academic letter of recommendation is a specific type of reference letter. Often, it's written by a teacher for a student. These letters are frequently required when people apply to college or for scholarships, special college programs, or fellowships.

Academic recommendations may also be requested as part of a job application. They can be particularly powerful when a position is aligned to the applicant's academic experience. Students may rely on academic recommendations from either their high school teachers or college professors to make up for a lack of work experience.

What's in an Academic Recommendation Letter? 

This type of letter is typically one to two pages in length. It highlights a student's academic history, character, and academic or career goals. The letter expands upon a student's report card or transcript, providing insight into how the applicant behaved as a student and is likely to perform as an employee. 

If you are a student who needs an academic recommendation letter, it's important to ask a teacher you are confident will write what you want the hiring company or academic institution to hear.

Often, recommendation letters are requested in sealed envelopes with the signature of the letter’s author over the seal. This is done to ensure the reference is authentic and speaks the truth about the job candidate. That means you may not have an opportunity to read what your recommender wrote about you. The letter is more likely to be positive and support your application if you have a good relationship with the recommender. 

Who to Ask for a Recommendation

In addition to teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, and supervisors may also write academic letters of recommendation for students. You can ask for letters of recommendation before you graduate. This way you have some letters ready to go and can attach them to your resume or application right away. Letters written ahead of time will need to be more general, so they can work for more than one application. 

Request a few copies of the letter and ask your teacher to place each one in a sealed and signed envelope, just in case a future employer would like to receive it in that format.

On a similar note, when you ask your teachers for references at the end of your time at school, request formal and informal copies of your transcript from the registrar's office. You will be pleased to have these in a folder waiting for you when you apply for your first job.

Sample Academic Recommendation Request

This is a sample letter a student can email or mail to a former teacher asking for a reference letter. You can download the recommendation letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.

Screenshot of a sample academic reference request letter.
 ©The Balance, 2018 

General Academic Recommendation Request from Student to Teacher (Text Version)

Sue Wright
123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345 
555-555-5555 ·

September 1, 2018

Lisa Lee
Professor Childhood Education
Acme University
123 Business Street
Business City, NY 54321

Dear Professor Lee, 

As I prepare for my journey into the workforce after graduation, I am hoping to gather a general letter of recommendation from you that I can use for future teaching position applications. 

As my elementary education advisor, mentor, and professor. I feel a reference from you would provide a potential employer with the insight into my character and teaching abilities ensuring them I would be an ideal candidate for the early childhood education position they are looking to fill. 

If you need any additional information, please contact me via email or phone. If you would kindly provide me with four signed copies of your letter in sealed envelopes with your signature across the seal, I would much appreciate it.

Thank you for your consideration and support. 

Sue Wright

Sample General Academic Recommendation for a Student

This general academic reference letter can be drafted by a teacher for a student to keep in their academic portfolio for future use.

General Academic Recommendation for a Student (Text Version)

Laurie Gallo
123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345 

September 1, 2018

Lisa Lee Operations Manager
Sunshine Hospital 123 Business Street Business City, NY 54321

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing this reference for Mary Miller, a student I was fortunate to work with during her senior year at Newton College. As both Mary’s academic advisor and professor of Children's Literature, I have watched her grow into a passionate and knowledgeable teacher.

A natural in the classroom, Mary has worked with students in both inclusive classrooms as well as individually, focusing on their special needs in reading and writing. 

Mary is a patient and compassionate teacher and is the ideal candidate for your special education graduate program. Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions you may have regarding Mary at 555-123-2345 or email, 


Laurie Gallo
Education Department Chair
Newton College

Sample Academic Recommendation for a Student

Here is a sample academic reference letter from a teacher.

Academic Recommendation for a Student (Text Version)

Susan Samuels
123 Main Street, Anytown, CA 12345 · 555-555-5555 ·

September 1, 2018

Franklin Lee
Department Chair Communications
Acme University
123 Business Street
Business City, NY 54321

Dear Ms. Jones:

I am writing this reference at the request of Katie Kingston who is applying for the Summer Communications Program at Acme University.

I have known Katie for two years in my capacity as a teacher at Smithtown Middle School. Katie took English and Spanish from me and earned superior grades in those classes. Based on Katie's grades, attendance and class participation, I'd rate Katie's academic performance in my class as superior.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend Katie Kingston for this academic program. If her performance in my class is any indication of how she will succeed, Katie will be a positive addition to the program. If you should need any additional information, you can feel free to contact me at 555-555-5555 or by email at anytime.


Susan Samuels
Smithtown Middle School