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Should You Use AI to Write a Student Rec Letter?

What’s Covered:


AI is taking the world by storm, people are using it more and more to make their lives easier. School counselors may be wondering if it is okay to have AI assist in writing student rec letters.


At CollegeVine, we have our own free Rec Letter Assistant to help school counselors come up with a first draft more efficiently. In this article, we want to explore the pros and cons of using AI to help write rec letters, and provide tips on using it ethically.


Pros of Using AI to Help Write Rec Letters


You’ll Save Time


Your time is precious and when application season rolls around you’re spread thin between advising students, compiling profiles, and writing countless letters of recommendation for all your students. Just imagine how much time you could save with AI!


All you have to do is plug in some details about each student and within seconds you are presented with a detailed, well-written letter that you can tweak as you see fit. Cutting down on the time you spend writing will allow you to spend more time working with students to help them with other aspects of the college process. Not to mention, you won’t have to worry about writing letters after hours and will have more free time!


You Can Better Focus on Telling the Students’ Stories


Admission officers greatly value the specific stories and details that counselors put into letters to get the best sense of the type of student they might admit. In fact, Sarina Holder, the Director of Admissions from Longwood University, told CollegeVine this:


“As an admissions officer, I rely on rec letters to better understand each student’s journey. CollegeVine’s Rec Letter Assistant makes drafting more efficient so counselors can focus on the heart and substance of their students’ stories.”


If you use AI to create a template for your letters and generate general paragraphs, you can then go in and add details about your students. AI can provide a framework for your writing, and you can supplement with stories about the student’s passions, praises from their teachers, and your personal description of their character. 


You can spend less time worrying about the introduction, conclusion, and transition, and spend more energy on showcasing each students’ strong suits.


No Need to Worry About Grammar and Editing


One of the best parts about using AI to write is you don’t have to worry about grammatical slip-ups or spelling errors. AI takes the tedious work of editing and double-checking your writing out of your job so you won’t have to worry about sending out unpolished letters. The last thing you want is for colleges to judge a student on the unprofessionalism of your rec letter, so AI provides a sense of security that your writing will be error-free.


Cons of Using AI to Help Write Rec Letters


Although AI can make your life easier, many people are still hesitant to fully trust it. Let’s look at some of the drawbacks of AI-generated recommendation letters now: 


AI Can Make Information Up


While it’s truly impressive some of the things AI can generate with a simple prompt, it is still pulling from existing information and might jump to conclusions when processing your request. In the case of rec letters, this might mean that the AI-generated letter includes details that might sound like they belong in a letter of recommendation, but have absolutely nothing to do with your given student.


For example, the letter might talk about the student’s strong work ethic and their passion for learning—admirable qualities that many counselors write about, which is why AI included it. However, your student might be the complete opposite. You wouldn’t necessarily characterize them as having a strong work ethic, but you would say they have an innate curiosity and when they find a topic that intrigues them they come alive. In this case, relying on AI would have incorrectly represented this student and would have backfired.


You Could End Up with a Generic Letter


Another large concern with using AI is that your letter will sound generic. AI tends to follow a very simple structure when writing, so it’s a valid concern that your letter will sound like a machine, not a person, wrote it.


That being said, CollgeVine’s Rec Letter Assistant allows you to upload your student’s brag sheet and examples of previous rec letters you have written to emulate your voice. By pulling detailed information about your student and creating the letter in your writing style, our AI tool helps alleviate the concerns of producing a generic letter.


AI Can Be Biased


Unfortunately, AI is not immune to bias. The programs reflect the biases of the data fed to them, which can sometimes result in biased results. For example, gender biases in Amazon’s resume-reading algorithm was a result of providing the AI with mainly male sample resumes. Additionally, racial biases were discovered in an algorithm used to predict defendants’ recidivism rates.


With the knowledge that AI isn’t perfect, you might not feel comfortable employing it to handle something as important as a student’s college chances. If you do choose to use AI, you should be aware of the possible hidden biases it might include and be prepared to look out for anything suspicious or incorrect.


3 Tips for Using AI to Write Recommendation Letters


If you decide to use AI to help you write letters of recommendation, what’s the best way to leverage this powerful tool to your advantage? These three tips will be helpful to keep in mind as you start navigating AI-generated letters.


1. Use It as a First Draft


To avoid a generic rec letter, only use AI to generate a first draft. Plug in some information and see what AI populates for you. Chances are, it won’t perfectly encapsulate the student you’re writing about and you’ll have to go back and add more details or change a few sentences to sound more natural.


But, when you use AI to create your first draft, you’ll cut out a lot of time coming up with general formatting and will already be a good portion of the way to a great letter.


2. Check for Potential Biases or Made-Up Information


As we mentioned above, two big negatives about AI are the fact it can make up information and that it can include biases. To avoid these issues, make sure that you carefully read through what is created to ensure that everything is accurate. You might have to go back and edit things yourself, but this just goes back to the idea that you shouldn’t rely on AI to provide you with the only, and final, draft of a recommendation letter.


3. Provide Enough Information on the Student


To cut back on the amount of time you need to spend editing, make sure that you are as detailed as possible when you request the letter in the first place. Make sure you provide information like:


  • Student name
  • College they are applying to
  • Academics and extracurricular activities
  • Any awards or major accomplishments
  • Intended major
  • Career goals
  • Feedback from teachers
  • Student’s background and family situation
  • School environment


In addition to providing all of this information, it’s also a good idea to specify certain aspects of the student’s profile to create a solid narrative. For example, if you have a student who excels at multiple subjects and is an active member of multiple clubs but they dream of becoming a doctor, you should tell the AI to focus on their aspirations of medicine, highlight their work in their AP Biology class, and emphasize their shadowing at a hospital over their other extracurriculars. 


How to Use AI to Write Good Rec Letter Drafts


While you could use a tool like ChatGPT to help you write rec letters, we at CollegeVine have a free AI Rec Letter Assistant that is already trained and helps you get a solid first draft in minutes. Upload a past example of a rec letter so it can write in your voice, fill out information about the student, and then get a draft you can further polish.

Short Bio
Lauryn is a student at Cornell University. She has been working at CollegeVine for over three years as a blog writer and editor.