There was an outstanding editorial a few days back in “The New York Times” that caught our eye. It’s one we just had to share with our readers. The op-ed, entitled “Check This Box If You’re a Good Person” and written by Dartmouth admissions officer Rebecca Sabky, is — to use the vernacular of high school students across America — on point. In fact, in a word, it’s refreshing.
Sabky describes her experiences as an admissions officer visiting high schools for information sessions. Students so often go up to her after the sessions are over to boast about their accomplishments and hand her their resumes (yikes — our students would never do such things!). They try to impress her. But in the end, they do everything but impress her. In fact, the student she describes as standing out to her was a student who let her know she dropped a granola bar, gave her the granola bar, and then disappeared. Because it was a gesture of pure kindness. In a sea of kids trying — desperately — to impress, it’s the kid who doesn’t try to impress who impresses. It’s what we always tell our students.
Impressive letters of recommendation need not come from presidents. As in presidents of countries (yes, people do that). They can come from everyday folks. In fact, the latter can be way more impressive to college admissions officers, as a Dartmouth admissions officer correctly asserts.
Sabky then goes on to describe the letter of recommendation that stands out the most to her in all her years in admissions. It was a letter from a school custodian in which the man details how the student always makes a point of saying thank you, always turns the lights out, and is just genuinely a good person. As Sabky writes, “Letters of recommendation are typically superfluous, written by people who the applicant thinks will impress a school. We regularly receive letters from former presidents, celebrities, trustee relatives and Olympic athletes. But they generally fail to provide us with another angle on who the student is, or could be as a member of our community. This letter was different.”
So to all those families — and there’s one family in particular that comes to mind whom we always enjoy working with — who want to send in superfluous letter after superfluous letter from people you deem important — don’t. As our regular readers know, we call these folks “the stuffers.” Please read this editorial by Dartmouth admissions officer Rebecca Sabky. We hope then you’ll understand why we wouldn’t let you send in these kinds of letters. And we’re so glad you listened to us! Because it worked.