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General Guidelines on Writing Letters of Recommendation for Open Dreams (Pre)-Scholars | James Akaba

Updated: May 4

Letters of recommendation are an important part of the college application process. The letters offer insights about and external perspectives (assessment) of a student to admissions officers, who are looking for students with impressive academic, personal, and social skills (character, heart, drive etc), who will likely succeed in college and beyond. A letter that is written well can be one of the determinants of a person getting accepted into a program or getting rejected. Credible letters of recommendation provide a comprehensive overview of an applicant beyond their academic transcripts, guiding decision-makers in the admission and/or scholarship processes.


Picture: I had the fortune of meeting with 2 of our enterprising Open Dreams Scholars, Blessing Kabi & Patience Sombang, on the campus of the University of California Berkeley. It was pure joy getting to know them better along with hearing about their future aspirations. I foresee many positive things in store for the future!

- Hans | Open Dreams Co-Founder


The key elements which must feature in letters of recommendation, with headings are:


-             Character, Personality, Social aspects

Where possible, cite examples that illustrate the student’s character and what makes the student special – highlight the unique strengths of the student; indicate for how long you have known the student and in what capacity. If you taught the student any particular subject, please, mention the subject. If you supervised the student in a research project, community engagement program etc, state the program and the duration of the supervision, citing the difference the student made during the process. You may highlight one or two instances in which you interacted with the student and the student portrayed the character traits or inherent attributes that make up the student's overall character. 


-             Academics

 Intellectual promise is the very first thing most universities look out for. Put everything in context when writing on academics, eg just about 0.005% of students across Cameroon earn 25 points (or a perfect score) at the GCE Advanced Level – so anyone with 25 points is among the top 0.005% of students in their batch who took the GCE Advanced Level. If the student had 20 points and was the best in his class of 200 students, that is something worth contextualizing. If a student is fond of kinesthetic learning, state that clearly and support it with weblinks, where available – these could be links to YouTube Videos, blog posts etc which are authored by the student or media outings (CRTV, Equinox, CNN, BBC etc) with the recordings available online.  If a student is an avid reader, write about what they like to read and why. The counselor's letter of recommendation should also explain anything unique on the student’s transcript such as an exchange program, a field outreach program or perhaps a reason why a student took a specific course. If there is a dip in grades on the student’s transcript, you might want to explain the reason.


Community Engagement Programs (Eco-Literacy for All by Education and Health for All Foundation under the leadership of Arabella Atem, and Aviva Day Celebration)

 

-             Leadership, community engagement (roles played and the difference that makes the student stand out)

An example; if the student was a class prefect or lab prefect, what was the difference the student made during his/her leadership? An example could be serving with impartiality when it comes to maintaining ethical standards and sanity. It could also be ensuring that there was serenity and tutorials running when a teacher does not show up for his/her period. Some students lead their classes in the science club, the drama club, the music club, the choir, the football team, and the school counts on them so much for success. These are important aspects to highlight. Most students admitted into top universities had done some research or participated in community projects, experiential learning programs, project-based learning initiatives, or shown some leadership traits in the community.

  

-             Challenging Circumstances (resilience, emotional stability, ability to adapt, to work independently)

Admissions counselors will be interested in knowing if a student’s grades were affected by challenging circumstances such as the protracted Anglophone crisis, divorce, illness, poverty, trauma/depression, deprivation/theft etc. It is usually appropriate to mention adversity without giving too much detail. Rather, focus on how the student coped with adversity or demonstrated resilience and moved on.

 

-             Extracurricular Activities.

Write what is unique about the student’s participation in activities in school and even in the community. Highlight where applicable. Your letter should be such that if you wrote about a student without mentioning the name, someone who works with that student for sometime should be able to match the character traits described in the letter, with the student.


Notes:

  • You do not have to mention the name of a particular institution in the letter of recommendation except it is specifically required like in the Chevening Program. You also do not necessarily need to state the program the student is interested in studying expect you are writing the letter of recommendation as part of the final stages of an admission process to a particular program in a particular institution.

  • To go deeper for those who serve as Program Facilitators or Counselors at Open Dreams or affiliate organizations, download the HALI Letter Guidelines below.


HALI LETTER CHECKLIST 2020 Final-RW
.pdf
Download PDF • 170KB

  • More HALI resources including recorded Zoom sessions on the topic of Letters of Recommendation are also available here.

  • For Graduate Students, visit these link1, link2 and link3 to learn more about navigating your way through with Letters of Recommendation (managing academic referees). Sustaining a good relationship with your professors is important. Do not reach out only when you need their assistance, after which you never return to say, "thank you". Just citing their names during the celebration of "Teacher Appreciation Week" might be so motivational to the teacher/professor.

-             A one-page letter of recommendation is enough. If there is so much to highlight about the student, then the letter should not exceed two pages. The introductory part must have a ‘Wow’ factor to keep an admission officer reading further down since they have thousands of letters to read within a short time.


Mbuli Martha Lingong (Program Facilitator) engages with a colleague in a conversation during an outreach


-             If you are a member of the Open Dreams (OD) Community, it is highly recommended that the letter carries the OD Letterhead, and your email address, and WhatsApp Number are visible at the bottom of the letter). If you are not part of Open Dreams, you can use any institutional letterhead where you are part of or you may request the Open Dreams Letterhead – as long as you are serving an Open Dreams Pre-Scholar (as a teacher, project supervisor, program facilitator), you can use it.


  • James Akaba | Open Dreams

 

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