Fall is here, and with it comes the bliss of perfect weather, beautiful scenery and college applications. It’s about this time of year when every senior goes into hibernation mode, working on college applications day in and day out; but it’s not only the students that are working on their college application, but also their counselors and their teachers.
Nearly every teacher that teaches junior classes understands the struggle, writing teacher recommendations is no little feat. Some teachers, such as Cory Tao and Deborah Weiss write anywhere between ten to twenty college recommendation letters every year, but other teachers such as Steve Kaback write up to thirty recommendations. This year he already has a solid thirty-two.
So what goes into writing a college recommendation? As Kaback explains, “I think my best letters of recommendation include the student’s voice in them… I quote students quite often, especially good quotes, because it gives me a chance to have you show off for yourself, without you showing off.” This use of student quotes is echoed by Tao’s statement, “It’s sometimes useful to quote from the student’s work in their college recommendation, such as a particularly pithy sentence or a cleverly worded thesis statement or a really poignant anecdote.”
Likewise, describing the student as an individual is also important in a teacher recommendation. As Tao describes, “You have to get to know the student not only just academically, but also on an interpersonal level. You know sort of their learning style, their strengths in the classroom, areas for growth, college recommendations– I believe it’s really important to show growth, more than anything else in addition to strengths.”
Tao’s comments parallel Weiss’s belief, saying “It has to be personal…You’re trying to give a picture of a person when all they’re looking at is your words. So saying so-and-so had the highest GPA doesn’t mean anything. I’m looking for something that makes that kid different from the other kids. Not necessarily better, smarter whatever, I’m looking for something that makes that kid unique and uniquely qualified to study somewhere.”
So next time you start stressing over your teacher recommendation letter, as Tao advises, “Be patient and know that ‘we got you’– that it will get done and we know when the deadlines are and that you shouldn’t worry. We’ve never left a soldier behind… We know that it’s stressful for you, but just know that you should take a breath and we got you.”