June 2011 Newsletter
So you’re applying to college this year. You need to write great essays, put together an activity sheet, prepare for interviews, and of course come up with a list of appropriate colleges. But the one piece of the puzzle that you might easily disregard is the letters of recommendation that are written on your behalf. In our May newsletter, we discussed how to obtain effective teacher letters of recommendation and we encouraged you to help your teachers write those letters. We also included a video on what to do and what not to do in an effort to secure the best possible teacher letters of recommendation.
In addition to having great teacher letters of recommendation, a letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor is also required. Just as we suggested in our May newsletter that you should not assume that your teachers are going to write outstanding letters of recommendation without your input, your counselor’s letter of recommendation is no different. In many ways, your guidance counselor’s letter carries even more weight than your teacher recommendations because although you can choose which teachers to write a recommendation, you cannot choose which counselor is going to write your counselor letter. So if you haven’t yet developed a relationship with your counselor just know that this letter might very well end up being generic, saying very little about you, and ultimately having no value in the admissions process.
With caseloads of 250 to 1000, too often, counselors don’t know most of their students. In many cases they might know a student by sight, but not know their name. It’s important that you make yourself known and for the right reasons. You don’t want to be the student whose parent calls at the beginning of every quarter to complain about your courses or grades as this could well have a detrimental effect on the letter that your counselor writes. Rather, you – not your parent – should establish a relationship with your counselor by setting up appointments in which you can discuss courses you’ve taken, courses you plan to take, your extracurricular activities, what you love to do, what you love to learn about, what your life goals are, and of course, the colleges to which you intend to apply.
You may find that your counselor will ask you and your parents to complete a “brag sheet” so that he/she has some information about you to make your letter more personal. But this brag sheet may not convey enough about you. Also, since your parents really don’t know what to include in a brag sheet, this task can be daunting and an exercise in futility.
This is an example of a typical brag sheet that counselors use:
1. During the past three or four years, what do you consider to be your child’s most outstanding accomplishments? Please explain these accomplishments.
2. During the past four years, in what areas has your child shown the most development and growth?
3. What do you consider to be your child’s most outstanding personality traits?
4. Describe your child in five adjectives, and explain why would you use these particular words.
5. Are there any unusual or personal circumstances, which have affected your son or daughter’s educational, extracurricular, or personal experiences?
While a brag sheet can certainly be helpful depending upon the questions asked and the answers your parent writes, it makes better sense for your parent to instead write the answers to the questions in a way that can be cut and pasted into a recommendation letter. In other words, to make it as easy as possible for the counselor who is overwhelmed with all of the recommendations that he/she has to write, the answers to your brag sheet questions can be in the form of an actual letter!
Your relationship with your guidance counselor should not start or end when your applications are submitted. School counselors love students who use them as a resource, and who think highly enough of their expertise. So if you want help in the college admissions process, in compiling a list of appropriate colleges, in putting together an activity sheet, in brainstorming essay topics, in preparing for interviews, or for any questions that may arise, make sure to schedule some meetings with your guidance counselor. And once you know that your guidance counselor has submitted a letter of recommendation on your behalf, be sure to write a thank you note. Keep in mind that counselors love to be loved. It’s what makes their job most gratifying. Counselors are also going to want to advocate for a student with whom they have relationship and care about. So show that love and, of course, don’t forget to keep your counselor informed as to your college decisions as they come in.
Counselor Letters of Recommendation
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