We call them the stuffers. But, Ivy Coach, what pray tell are stuffers? Allow us to explain. Stuffers are students (and parents) who like to send the kitchen sink to highly selective college admissions offices. Maybe it’s a family photo album. Or a home-cooked meal delivered fresh to a student’s regional admissions officer. Or additional letters of recommendation from powerful and influential folks. And just about every time, we tell these students and parents to avoid stuffing their files with superfluous materials — to avoid the act of stuffing entirely. Less can absolutely be more! Indeed.
That letter of recommendation from a state assemblyman who golfs with mom but doesn’t know her child from Adam — that is going to hurt more than help her child’s case for admission. And why? Think about it. An admission officer is likely to think one or both of the following two things (and likely both): (1) this person thought I’d be impressed by a state assemblyman? I’ll show them! (2) this state assemblyman clearly doesn’t even really know the kid. It offers no genuine insight into the student’s character or intellectual curiosity. Are you getting the idea? We hope so.
Will a college letter of recommendation from a famous or influential person always help? No! In fact, it could absolutely hurt a student’s case for admission — if the person doesn’t really know the student and can’t speak to the student’s strengths and character.
Now are there exceptions? Yes, there are exceptions to just about any rule. But, remember, it’s the exception to the rule, not the rule. A piece in “Vulture” by Karen Brill entitled “Michelle Obama Wrote Black-ish’s Yara Shahidi a Letter of Recommendation for College” highlights how our former First Lady wrote an actress on ABC’s hit show “Black-ish” a college letter of recommendation. And indeed Michelle Obama has a relationship with Yara Shahidi, a Harvard applicant. In the photo featured in Brill’s piece alone, the duo are seen giving a talk together, slapping high-five.
At Ivy Coach, we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen — and edited — letters of recommendation from world leaders from six of the seven continents. And we’ve seen letters of recommendation from the state assemblyman that we vehemently urge students and their parents to burn to keep warm on a cold night like tonight. And, yes, even a letter from a powerful person can work against a student if that person doesn’t really know the student and can’t truly speak to what the student will bring to that university.
Thinking of submitting additional college letters of recommendation — beyond the two teacher letters of recommendation and the school counselor’s letter? We hope you’re rethinking all that now. We suspect you are. After all, yours may not be the exception.