A student of mine asked me to write a letter of recommendation for undergraduate admission. I know Academia.SE focuses on questions about graduate schools and above, but I hope my question is general enough for this site.

The university my student is applying to has a standard form for the letter of recommendation, with standard information on the applicant (name, GPA, intended major,...) as well as on the recommender (name, position,...), followed by three essay-type sections about 1. academic/intellectual performance, 2. personal/interpersonal evaluation and 3. additional comments.

I am confident that I can give inputs on the 2 first essay sections on my student as I have been supervising her/him for some time, but I am clueless on the third one.

What kind of "additional information" is the admission committee expecting to read in this section ?

Would it give a bad impression if I don't write anything (I will write very enthusiastically on my student's academic and interpersonal prowess)? I am worried of it, as the form specifically mentioned that I "may attach additional sheets, if necessary".

Is it the right place to comment about the fact that the student's diversity (being a foreigner, a woman,...) would be an asset for the university she/he is applying to?

Note: this is not in the US, but for a university with a world wide reputation and the American-like system.

  • 1
    It's a great idea to address diversity. If you do, though, make sure you make it a selling point, not an empty descriptor. For example, if the woman was active in a women's group in her department, mention that; if the international student was involved in a peer advising group that developed a special program that matched each incoming international grad student with a one-on-one peer advisor, mention that. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 3:01
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    @aparente001: the question is about a student applying for undergraduate admission (i.e. they are likely a high school student of age roughly ~18). It therefore seems quite unlikely that they would have e.g. developed a mentoring program for graduate students. Do you feel your comment applies to high school students?
    – Tom Church
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 4:37
  • You could email the university's admissions office and ask what "additional comments" is intended to cover.
    – user2768
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 14:37
  • @TomChurch - I saw "university" and thought, Master's. I totally missed the word "undergraduate" in the first sentence. // My impression is that there are boxes on a form where a student would indicate race and gender. Even for an undergraduate, I don't think a simple mention of the student's diversity status would be a selling point beyond what's checked off in the boxes. Here's an example of something that could work for a high school letter: Joe Diverse founded a Rainbow Theater Club that promoted diversity. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 22:04

1 Answer 1


Note: this is just my opinion, not necessarily the "correct" or "necessary" way to do this. I also agree with @aparente001 that you could highlight some other accomplishments of the student outside their academic work, or reflect on a particular struggle the student had and overcame if appropriate. Another alternative is an anecdote about the student that highlights one of the other characteristics you discussed or something else in their application.

That said, Sections 1 and 2 relate to the characteristics of the student, and you could write these sections without necessarily knowing anything about the university or program the student is applying to. Section 3 is an opportunity for you to say "this student would be a great fit for your university because _____." That reason might not be particularly about their academic performance or personal demeanor but rather something that ties the student to where they want to attend. If you don't know what the student's particular ambitions are, it would be completely appropriate to ask them.

Essentially you are corroborating the student's statement of purpose or similar essay they might be including in their application (you could ask them for this, as well). Along the lines of diversity, I'd be a bit wary of saying "because this student checks categories A, B, and C they'd be great for your school's statistics!" (I know you wouldn't really say that, but I'm just pointing out that the school will already have whatever diversity-related information they need to make those decisions) However, there might be related issues you can highlight. Maybe the student has aspired to be the first generation in their family to attend an institution of higher learning. Maybe they want to go to University X because of their excellent program in the agricultural sciences. Maybe their parents are both physicians and the student wants to go to University Z because their broad liberal arts education will allow them to seek what really drives them. It all depends on the student and their goals. Anecdotes are great too. This is your opportunity to talk about the time your student gave a talk in class on a particular topic, or produced a particular project, or took on a role in the school play, etc, and showed a particular passion or aptitude.

I'd avoid leaving it blank if you want to submit a solid recommendation.

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