CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) Letters of Recommendation Why do colleges want them? How should they be written?
And should a parent pay close attention to them? College admissions adviser Paul Hemphill discussed the topic and answered these
Why do colleges want letters of recommendation?
The LOR comes from the perspective of an outside observer, someone who knows the
student and can be an advocate for the student. For example, most colleges want an
application essay that reveals who you are, but an essay usually gets worked over by a
teacher, a parent, another teacher, so that the essay doesn’t look like a student actually
wrote it. But to get another person to write a LOR, such as a teacher, a scout master, or a
religious figure, it can add a dimension to the student that is totally different and very helpful
to the admissions reader. There are some colleges that do not require an essay, but prefer
to read what someone else says about the student.
If you were a student, how would you request a letter of recommendation?
I always suggest to my students to approach a teacher and ask them to write a story about
one incident that illustrates the student’s character. One of my students found a money clip
with 300 dollars in the school’s parking lot, returned it to the principal, and got a very good
LOR from the principal months later. In other words, instead of writing a strings of
superfluous superlatives that colleges see over and over, a teacher can write a short story
that really means something. If the teacher doesn’t know a story, the student can write one,
submit it to the teacher for a rewrite, and submit it.
Should a parent have anything to do with a LOR?
Oftentimes parents are asked to write a “brag sheet,” which can offer insight into how the
student was brought up – what his family values are. Or, Dartmouth College will ask the
student to have a fellow student write an LOR. It’s all about perspective – someone else’s
perspective other than the student’s.
Do you suggest anything a parent should be aware of?
Let me caution you: Tell the LOR writer that you would like to have copy of the letter a week
before graduation so you can see if you were rejected from a college because of the LOR.
When you make such a request, you’re putting the writer on notice NOT to say something
harmful of the student. The writer doesn’t want any negative back-draft from the parents in
the form of a lawsuit. One of my students, who refused to do any homework because he had
near-perfect SAT scores, was rejected by nearly all of his colleges because a teacher said
this student was lazy. So be careful!!