Letters of Recommendation

I recently attended a very informative session on the substantial weight that the Letter of Recommendation holds in the highly competitive US university admissions process. Though mostly aware, I still came out enlightened from this session and felt the great urge to encourage fellow counsellors and teachers to devote more time and energy to ensure that their letter is specific and storied.

FIVE key points stood out:

1. Is our letter genuinely adding something new to the application or is it a mere affirmation of all grades and activities mentioned by the student on their application? So firstly, provide information that cannot be gleaned from the rest of the application. It is your letter that makes every detail on the application much richer.

2. Any conclusion about the student should be supported with facts and specific instances whenever possible. An incident that conveys the character or merit of the student is more telling than a mere statement like “ABC is bright and mature”. An effective letter draws on your specific expertise with the student, so feel free to write about your conversations/experiences with the student.

3. Colleges are most keen to hear about the student’s intellectual attributes along with the personal qualities and work habits. But, first focus on the academic talents and skills i.e. how bright, creative or articulate your student is before you mention how kind, co-operative or hardworking he is. INTELLECTUAL ATTRIBUTES matter a lot. Comment on their exam papers, their participation style in class, is the student the one everyone in class counts on to ask the question, is the student the one who always brings a new perspective to the discussion, is the student always the first one to break the silence.

4. Giving context to everything on the letter in extremely critical. Let the University understand how this student is unique in his school community.

5. The length of the letter of recommendation is not at all a concern. Even if the LOR is brief, what matters most is the quality of the content.

Example:
I have been teaching ABC, the subject of Physics for two years. He was a good student. Through hard work, he was able to develop a good understanding of the subject material.

He also had personal qualities that are commendable. In the two years that I have known him, I have never known him to be dishonest or untrustworthy. Once on an exam paper, I had made a grading error in his favor. He brought this to my attention even though it resulted in a lower test grade.

In conclusion, I feel that he has both the academic and personal qualities to be a credit to the college of his choice, and I give him my recommendation without reservation.

This is a positive letter, but unfortunately, it adds no real depth to the student’s application. Hard work, honesty and trustworthiness are good but common traits. Colleges are looking for compelling reasons to admit students.

So, let’s go all out to support our students with well worked at recommendations 🙂

Thank you!

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