By Candace Tsai
Colleges often ask for multiple letters of recommendation from people who know you well. The purpose of these letters is to reveal information about you that test scores and your transcript can’t. Topics in a letter of recommendation can range from your personality, to how well you work in a collaborative environment. But are letters of recommendation necessary? And how best to go about getting them? I talked to teachers, college consultants, college admissions offices, and students to get the inside scoop on why letters of recommendation exist and how they go about getting them. Here’s what they said.
College Admissions Offices:
Colleges need a way to find the students that shine the brightest and will fit in best in their environments.
According to Lorenzo Gamboa, Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Admission at Santa Clara University, letters of recommendation exist, “to provide supporting evidence that the candidate in question is meeting or not meeting your expectations.” It’s really the time to get to know who you’re letting into the college. He says that letters of recommendation are meant to “highlight and also provide support in areas of weakness if written correctly.” Recommendation letters from teachers aren’t always positive. It can also be the time for teachers to tell the admissions office the truth about students whether it’s not paying attention in class or cheating.
When Lorenzo was asked about a substitution for letters of recommendation, he said, “A picture of a leprechaun and them because there is no perfect solution of getting to know someone in less than 15 minutes when you have 15,000 other people to review. “
Academic teachers are always write letters of recommendation. How do they do it, and what’s their secret to writing them?
According to Mr. Addicott, his general approach is to “do background research on the student.” This could include reviewing past work, reading the “brag sheet” if provided, and Googling them. He leaves a couple hours to research, a couple days to process all the information, and a single seating to write the recommendation. Is there a basic outline that he uses? Nope! It’s all from scratch besides the standard “To whom it may concern.” But why doesn’t he just make an outline that he can follow every time? He says, “If writing multiple letters for the same school, any copy/paste from a template would stick out.”
Teachers aren’t the only ones asked to write letters of recommendation. When it’s time for seniors to start applying for colleges, the college counselor at d.tech will have to write a handful of recommendation letters for students, too. But, how does somebody in Kathleen Odell’s position do it all? Counselors have so many letters to write, in such a short amount of time.
She says, “Before beginning to write a letter of recommendation, I meet with the student who is requesting it, to understand why they are applying for the program/college where we are sending the recommendation, and why they feel they would be a good fit. This is a great opportunity for me to learn more about the student, and go over their background, interests, skills, etc.” Writing letters of recommendation is part of her job, and she says she’s more than happy to write them. She does ask to be given a minimum of two to three weeks notice before a letter is due, so that she has enough time to complete the process.
It’s always helpful to hear from students who have asked for letters of recommendation before. Ashley Fong, a junior, says that her process is, “first thinking about which classes [she’s] grown the most in, and which teachers [she’s] been able to connect with.” The benefit of choosing teachers that she’s gotten to know, is that they can write about her improvement in the class, and they really do know about her work habits. She says that you should definitely ask at least two weeks in advance, so it’s not rushed.
Whether it’s applying for a summer program, or to the college of your dreams, these letters detail what to expect of you, and the type of person you are, far beyond what letter grades are capable of conveying. Their purpose is to provide an understanding of you, so ask someone who truly knows you best to write them. At the end of the day, it all comes down to you – what you do, and who you are.