Did you know that only about 20% of undergraduate applications for admissions are a confident admit or deny to an admissions officer? That’s it! That means that about 80% of you will have your shot at undergraduate admissions office committee hearings, without you even present to defend yourself.
Who defends you? The admission officers that read your application. You have about a dozen or so pages to present the best case scenario to the admissions committee: personal statements, detailed extracurriculars, commitment in and to your studies, and letters of recommendations.
Now, letters of recommendations for college admissions (not supplements) are from at least two teachers that know you well, and your high school guidance counselor. Oftentimes snippets of these recommendations are read in committee to display the best of you, the applicant. If you want the best shot at the best presentation in committee, then it is in the students best interest to find people that know them well.
What does “know well” actually mean? Well, the teacher does not have to be a friend of the family nor do they have to be a relative or have known you more than a couple of years. But, students, here is something to think about:
Did you make the best effort to help the teacher know who you are? Did you share your questions in class? Did you stay after class to ask questions or to pick your teachers brain? Did you decide to spend extra time on an assignment so that your teacher can discover what an extraordinary thinker you may be? Did you invite your teacher to your volleyball/basketball/tennis game? I know teachers are busy, but small details can go a long way especially when they only have one page to write about how extraordinary you are.
Now, on to the guidance counselor. This one may be a little tricky. If you attend Hamilton high school or a Small Learning Community School, or your counselor is “yours” for four years, then this can be a bit easier since the counselor, ideally, has had four years to get to know you.
Before application season (or at the very beginning), remind them of your awesome qualities with a brag sheet or share with them why you chose the particular colleges you did (including major, why you want to study there, activities you may want to be involved with,etc). It is in your best interest to help the counselor out a bit-a brag sheet or short summary of what you would like emphasized in the letter can help.
For the students that attend a large school with grade-level counselors that only meet most students once, if that (or if you have a new counselor this year), getting to know the counselor and having the counselor know you well before he/she has to write about you, may prove to be a challenge. Getting to know the counselor will take initiative on the *students* part. Introduce yourself, talk a bit about your college choices, your interests, hand them your brag sheet and list of colleges. Help them write the best letter for you, even if they may not have hours of free time to do so.
Notice that I said student. Not parent. As much as I love parents visiting me, introducing themselves to me and offering insight on their child, I as a counselor am not writing a letter about how awesome said students parents are or how involved they are with his/her life (read helicopter). I am writing about the student and what contributions the student made to the school and the community. The parent information can be supplementary, but information is most genuine when it comes to the student themselves.
Most application essays are only about 500 words. Most letters of recommendations are about a page long. Applications only offer a couple of sentences worth of space to describe extracurriculars. USE EVERY WORD! EVERY WORD COUNTS!