So much more goes into the college application than simply grades and test scores; recommendation letters from teachers can go a long way towards putting your best foot forward. But getting a great recommendation requires more than simply asking your favorite teacher for a favor; it requires thoughtful preparation and good follow-up. (College Coach shares why teacher recs are important and whom to ask in previous blogs).
When to ask
At a minimum, you should ask for a recommendation letter six weeks in advance of deadlines. Ideally, this request can be made at the end of junior year—many of my teacher friends like to write some of these letters over the summer, to ease their fall workload.
Q: What is the role of the recommendation letter in the application process?
When I was an admissions officer at Tufts, I actually called an English teacher in Iowa to thank her for writing such helpful recommendations. She’d written letters for four students, and captured each kid in a way that evocatively highlighted his or her unique engagement in the classroom, such that I could vividly picture how each would contribute to the intellectual community on our campus. All four were admitted. So—why did those letters matter?
Learning About the Student Behind the Grades
An effective teacher recommendation can merge academic data (such as grades and test scores) and personal qualities (which are highlighted in essays and extracurricular activities) to help the admissions officer understand the student behind the many pieces of the application.
“Congratulations! You’ve been chosen out of a select group of students to apply to XYZ College using our Shining Stars Application!”
One of my students received an email with a message similar to this from a school he hadn’t heard of before. He was excited that the admission office was interested in him, but he wondered how they knew who he was. He hadn’t visited the school or even looked at their website.
If you’re like most students, you’ve been receiving tons of publications and emails from colleges across the country. In some cases, these mailings are coming from schools that you’ve selected. Maybe you visited the campus or filled out an inquiry form at a college fair or signed up online for the mailing list. But some of these mailings are likely coming from schools that you hadn’t considered before. So how did they find out about you?
For some families, pushing the send button on their first round of applications for either Early Decision (a binding contract) or Early Action (non-binding applications) can be elating and a huge relief in a way words cannot begin to describe. The biggest challenge for most students afterwards, though, is summoning the motivation needed to finish any remaining applications so that they meet their Regular Action deadlines — it’s also a challenge for those charged with helping students, e.g. guidance counselors and parents, those wanting to bring closure to the process.
With Hurricane Sandy impacting many on the East Coast in one way or another, students who literally believed their deadline date was the day on which to submit an application, rather than the one to two weeks before that we so often encourage, received a big wake-up call. Though many colleges gave application deadline extensions due to power outages, it is not something one can anticipate happening again. So, what’s left, now that a few applications have been submitted? Here is a suggested list for seniors to follow — parents, take note.
“Charlie” called me yesterday in a panic. With college application deadlines rapidly approaching, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of work he still had to do on essays and the applications themselves. When we had met two months earlier to discuss his college list, those deadlines seemed so far away, giving Charlie the sense that he had all the time in the world; after all, how hard could it be to fill out information about himself and write a few essays?
“I know you told me to get drafts of my essays to you right after we met, but I just didn’t take it that seriously in the summertime,” he said sheepishly. Now, with a heavy school schedule and a fall sport, Charlie is pressed to make time for his applications. Together, we fleshed out a college application timeline for him to follow, leading up to his earliest deadline of November 1st.
“HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting.” This is perhaps one of the best points made in a recent NY Times article, Raising Successful Children, and couldn’t be more poignant than in the fall of your child’s senior year.
There’s a lot more at stake (or so it feels) in today’s world of college admissions. This makes it all the easier for parents to want to step in, sometimes at the expense of allowing a child to learn from the process itself. So how do you avoid overstepping the bounds? Read our Top 5 Parental Tips on Managing the Application Process for a start:
The Common Application (“Common App,” for short) offers an easy way for students to apply to multiple institutions using one main application. But just how “easy” is it, really? Because I have worked with the Common App for over 15 years, I decided to ask two of my students, Sam and Megan, for their navigational “first impressions.”
Sam: First things first. Just go to the Common App and in the middle of the page, right under the Username and Password Login, click on the “Go Here” link right next to “Never Registered?” You have to fill out your basic information (name, birthdate, year of graduation, etc.) and set up a username and password. [This is a document that will eventually be seen by admissions professionals, so everything needs to be correct!]
Can you believe it’s nearly August? Because the Common Application goes “live” on August 1, some would argue the last week of July is the last week of summer. While technically it’s still summer, time is passing! So what’s your college application plan? Your child’s future is nearly here. Are you ready? Do you have your timeline set for the next few months? Know what’s coming? You can learn how to have a stress free rest-of-summer with our “Ten pre-application steps.” Download it now before the summer passes you by!
It’s a pretty common scenario, especially at larger high schools: guidance counselors not personally knowing each and every student to whom they are assigned. This might not worry you much as a parent until you rummage through your child’s set of college applications and realize this same guidance counselor is required to write a letter of recommendation for her. But don’t panic, it’s not as dire a situation as you might think! Our college admissions experts help students get over this hurdle every year.
Though it’s true a personal connection between guidance counselor and student might be helpful in multiple respects, the purpose of the guidance letter is not necessarily meant to be personal. What information do school reports, as guidance recommendations are so often called, usually answer, then? Colleges are most curious about: