Timothy Peck 5 min read 12th Grade, Recommendation Letters

Peer Letter of Recommendation: Everything You Need to Know

Letters of recommendation from teachers and advisors are commonplace in college admissions, but some colleges require or encourage submitting a peer rec letter as well.

 

Davidson currently requires a peer recommendation, and Dartmouth strongly encourages submitting one, which, at such a selective school, is essentially the same as a requirement. 

 

If you’re contemplating applying to Dartmouth or Davidson, or have been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a friend, keep reading to learn more about this uncommon college application requirement.  

What is a Peer Letter of Recommendation?

 

A peer letter of recommendation is just what it sounds like: a letter from someone who knows you well that provides insight into who you are outside of an academic setting. Peer letters of recommendation play an integral part in a holistic admissions process that considers the student as a whole person, not simply a collection of grades and test scores. A letter of recommendation from a friend can speak to your personality, character, and interests outside of school. It can also shed light on how you’ll fit in and contribute on campus. 

 

A compelling letter can help separate yourself from other applicants at such competitive schools. Formal recommendation letters from teachers generally focus on your academic achievement and potential, and letters from advisors focus on past achievements and future potential. Peer recommendations are typically more personal. At their simplest, a peer letter of recommendation is a friend making a case for why a college would want you on their campus. 

 

Pros and Cons of Submitting a Peer Rec Letter

 

There are numerous pros offered by a letter of recommendation from a friend. Friends see more of each other in daily life than they do teachers and advisors, who they might see for just a brief window of time daily or weekly. Because of this, your friends can paint a more vibrant picture of you, including your attitude, unique traits, and how you interact with others. While teachers can speak to how you’ll fit in a college classroom, friends can share how you’ll fit on a college campus. 

 

Friends and teachers also prioritize different attributes in people. For example, teachers commonly focus on performance and academic achievement, while friends value qualities like leadership, motivation, trustworthiness, and dependability. Even if a teacher values qualities like leadership, they often only witness you displaying it in a small, confined setting. A friend can tell a college about all your positive attributes that teachers don’t get to see. 

 

Teachers are also subject to their own personal biases, which is something that is particularly harmful to students of color. For example, a 2016 Stanford University study found that teachers are less likely to expect Black and Latinx students to complete more than high school when compared to white students. Similarly, another Stanford study found that Black students are more likely to be labeled as troublemakers and subject to harsher punishment than their white peers. A peer recommendation allows a student to pick someone who is not as influenced by these biases.

 

Just as there are pros to a peer letter of recommendations, there are also cons. Just as a great letter of recommendation from a friend can bolster your odds of acceptance, a poor letter can hurt them. This makes it vital that students choose the right person to advocate for them—a creative and clear communicator, who knows you well and has your best interest in mind. 

 

Letters of recommendations from friends can also disadvantage students coming from low-income and less-competitive schools. Students coming from these schools are less likely to have a peer group as capable of writing a highly persuasive letter as students coming from more high-income and private high schools. 

 

Who Should You Ask for Peer Recommendation?

 

Both Davidson and Dartmouth offer clear instructions on who should write your peer recommendation. 

 

Davidson directs applicants to have their letter “completed by a classmate or close friend who knows the applicant well and can evaluate the applicant’s strengths.”

 

Dartmouth instructs applicants to get their letter written by “anyone the applicant considers a peer. It should not be someone who is in a supervisory or oversight role in the applicant’s life. A few examples are a classmate or teammate; brother, sister, or cousin; a co-worker; a friend met at summer school or summer camp; lab or debate partner.”

 

Digging deeper, there are certain characteristics you should look for in the person you ask to write your peer recommendation. They should be:

 

  • A strong, engaging, and persuasive writer 
  • Someone who can share personal anecdotes or examples of you demonstrating your strengths 
  • Someone who knows you well and can speak to your character and personality 
  • Supportive of your college ambitions 
  • Someone who has the time to devote to writing you a compelling recommendation 
  • Willing to learn about the schools you’re applying to and what they’re looking for in applicants 

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How to Write a Rec Letter for a Friend

 

Writing a letter of recommendation for a friend is a great honor—and an enormous responsibility. If a friend asks you to perform this important task for them, here are a few steps you can take to ensure you make a compelling argument for your friend. 

 

Generate an Idea

 

Before putting pen to paper or clicking away on your keyboard, think about the characteristics that you find admirable in the person you’re recommending. 

 

  • What makes them stand out? 
  • What qualities in them impress you? 
  • What have the two of you bonded over? 
  • What successes or adversities have you shared? 

 

After you’ve identified an area to write about, build a list of examples and experiences that highlight them. The best recommendation letters from friends show that the person you’re writing about has demonstrated a particular strength or skill, rather than plainly stating it. For example, instead of simply writing that your friend is persistent, you can share a story about how they got cut from the baseball team freshman year but, after dedicating themselves to practice, they made the team the following year and started for the varsity team as a senior. 

 

Create an Outline and Write a Draft 

 

A peer letter of recommendation is generally about one page long and is less formal than letters of recommendation coming from teachers and advisors. While you can write a letter of recommendation for a friend in a more personal voice, this is still a persuasive piece of writing. A good piece of persuasive writing contains three sections: an introduction, body, and conclusions. 

 

Introduction: The introduction should tell the reader who you are and what your relationship is to the person you’re writing the letter for, include a statement of recommendation, and grab the reader’s attention. 

 

Body: In the body of your peer letter of recommendation (normally two paragraphs), you want to offer examples that back up the reasons why you’re recommending your friend that you provided in your statement of recommendation. Remember to show using anecdotes and incidents, not just tell. Attention-grabbing letters make the person you’re writing about jump off the page and provide a fully formed picture of the person you’re writing about. 

 

Conclusion: This is your closing argument as to why a college should accept your friend, so make it count. It’s important to reaffirm your statement of support for your friend in the conclusion and end with something that the reader will remember. 

 

Proofread and Revise 

 

A letter of recommendation is a big deal and deserves to be treated as such. Reread your letter and make sure it presents a clear, concise, and captivating argument for your friend’s acceptance. Also, take time to ensure you’ve used clear examples demonstrating your friend’s strengths and that the tone is something you’re comfortable sending to a college. 

 

At schools like Davidson and Dartmouth, a peer letter of recommendation is just one part of the admissions process. Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. It will also show you how you stack up against other applicants and how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.