College application tips: the letter of recommendation

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College application tips: the letter of recommendation

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Letters of recommendation can be very important for some colleges. And not all colleges are the same on this of course. But the great thing about letters of reccomendaton is that is a way for a college to learn what a student is like in the classroom, and usually confidentially, from teachers who have seen that child day-in and day-out for a year or even more. That is invaluable to some colleges. And in those cases the letters become quite important. Typically colleges will want two letters of recommendation from teachers. And typically they want one from humanities, so one from maybe an English or history teacher, and one from a math-science teacher. And they really like to see those from junior year teachers. There's not much that parents can frankly due about that. Because by the time those letters are being written, everything that's going into them has already happen. Because they are writing them in the senior year, and the teacher has already had that child for a year. There is something the kids can do about that thought .And that is to make sure that they are positive in the classroom their junior year. That they work hard. And that they do those sorts of things for teachers that we would expect. Say thank you. Seek feedback from teachers on their work. Try to get better. And those are the kinds of things that teachers are going to reflect on when they write their letters of recommendation. Kids should be careful not to grade grub their junior year. Constantly bickering with teachers over 1-2 points on a quiz or test could be reflected in the letter of recommendation that the teacher is writing a year later, and that is not healthy or helpful when kids are applying to college. Another interesting question is how many letters is too many and who should those letters be from? Obviously for sure there are a couple from teachers. And the school, the high school typically writes one as well that is on behalf of the school regarding the student. But the question then becomes if the kid knows a famous actor or a business leader or a politician should those people be writing letters for the student, and how many. And I think it's not bad to have maybe one additional letter, if the person who writes the letter actually knows the kid and is writing genuinely about experiences they have had with that child that they can reflect on in the letter. Merely writing the letter because you work with someone and you're writing the letter for their child is not helpful at all. And in fact, there's a saying in college counseling circles, the thicker the file, the thicker the student. And so you don't want to add unnecessarily to that file. But one letter can make a difference. If it's just a letter though from someone who doesn't know the kid and it's just a famous name to have in the file, it's not going to help.
TEEN, Education, Applying to College

View Robert K. Cooke, MEd's video on College application tips: the letter of recommendation...

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Robert K. Cooke, MEd

Upper School Director

Robert has been in K-12 education for thirty years; for sixteen years he was a high school history and social studies teacher, teaching subjects such as AP US History, Western Civilization, World History, Economics, and Anthropology. His school administrative career has been equally varied, serving as Director of Activities at a large public high school, and a Middle School Director and Upper School Director at independent (private) schools in the Midwest and California. Robert earned his Bachelor's Degree in History from Carleton College, and his Master's in Education from Claremont Graduate University. He is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS), and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Robert has served on school accreditation teams in the Midwest and California. He has two children, one of whom is an acting and English Literature double major at a large urban university on the East Coast, while the other is a high school junior in Los Angeles.

 

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