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Today’s question of the day comes from Heidi. She asks:
“I am working on writing my son’s counselor recommendation letter (required by the colleges he’s applying to), and am really struggling to even get started. Any suggestions? “
Great question Heidi, here’s a couple tips. You want to use the letter to expand upon what the school has already learned about your son, or maybe even inform them of something entirely new. It shouldn’t be a checklist of what he’s accomplished, but should expound upon his accomplishments. Do your best to “wow” them with it. Letters of recommendation should really “sell” the school on your son and make them realize what an asset he’ll be to their institution.
All that being said, it’s usually better if letters of recommendation come from a non-family member, as there is a general bias towards family writing them because of the perceived lack of objectivity, warranted or not. If possible, send two additional letters, written by an adult he has worked with, volunteered for, taken lessons under, etc. This will give an element of “social proof” from someone other than yourself as his parent.
Since every school differs in their requirements, one letter from you might be plenty, but a good majority have more stringent requirements. In my experience, it’s better to be over prepared than under.
Some schools requires that the letter come from a guidance counselor, namely you. This is a tough position to be in, as it’s a challenge to separate your feelings as a parent from those you feel as your son’s teacher. Even so, it can be done well.
I’ve reviewed numerous letters over the years, and every one has been different and unique. The letters which were the most impressive were those in which the author was brutally honest and passionate. Knowing this, and faced with this decision, make sure you do the same. Be extremely honest in your letter. Don’t shy away from the fact that you’re both parent, teacher, counselor, etc. Use this to your advantage. You know your son better than anyone else, so you can tell his story better than anyone else can. Mention the activities he has been involved in and how you’ve seen him grow and mature through the years because of it. Be yourself. Don’t try and write what you think the admissions staff wants to hear, but write from the heart.
Hope that helps, let me know if you need further clarification!
Does anyone else have suggestions for Heidi on what you’ve done in the past when asked for recommendation letters?
One of my passions in life is business and entrepreneurship, probably stemming from my own homeschooling background and my parents involvement in several small and home-based businesses, of which I became an active participant.
In college I was actively involved with Students In Free Enterprise, and in a former career, I worked with highschoolers promoting Future Business Leaders of America.
Business and creativity are a natural progression for homeschoolers. Whether it’s a lemonade stand on the corner, soap making, or website design, there are an incredible amount of opportunities for homeschooled students to use their gifts and talents to create a profitable business from home.
Today, more than ever, opportunities abound. Just ask Dallas Crilley, a 16 year old homeschooler from Texas, who also happens to be an author and entrepreneur. His blog, “kidpreneur,” chronicles stories of creative kids and teens and how they’ve taken an idea and turned it into a profitable business model.
One of the underlying themes is how students have taken something they’re passionate about and turned it into a money making opportunity. Isn’t that what homeschooling is all about…learning about those things that interest us and pursing them? And, if it so happens that these interests can be monetized, even better, right?
Gary Vaynerchuk is a guy who I’ve become fascinated with of late. He’s the founder of Wine Library TV, an online videocast about the wine industry, and he just authored a book about turning your passions into profits. Now, I don’t know about you, but I love the idea of getting paid to do what I enjoy. In the traditional paradigm of education and work, this rarely happens. but today, with the advancement of technology, we see it happening more and more.
Picasso once said that taking action is the key to all success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there, help your students (and yourself) find their passions and begin creating something that you’ll not only enjoy, but might also make a few dollars as well!
Today’s questions are a couple of good ones. These are the last two from Laura.
Are colleges looking at homeschoolers differently?
It depends upon what you mean by “differently,” and whether or not you think it’s a good thing that they do or don’t, but the short answer is yes, they do look at homeschoolers differently.
Just a few years ago, when a homeschooled student applied to college, he was greeted with suspicion and a small amount of disdain. (Ok, maybe a lot of disdain, depending on the school!) These days however, many universities actively recruit homeschooled students, because of their higher than average test scores, strong work ethic, and recent history of collegiate success. Even so, there is still an attitude that homeschooled students need to “prove” themselves before they can be admitted. This generally takes the form of standardized test scores and dual enrollment courses being weighed higher, due to the perception of parental subjectivity regarding the student’s GPA.
So, in order to counter this attitude, make sure to prepare your students well, so that their ACT/SAT scores adequately reflect their GPA.
How does my child go about choosing a college?
Sit down with your student with a pen and paper and make a list of the qualities he or she is looking for in a college. Big school or small. Public or private. Religious affiliation or secular. Close to home or far away. Liberal arts college, or technical school. After asking these questions and listing which factors are important, begin researching what schools fit these criteria and if they have the program of study or major your child is interested in.
This process should begin informally freshman year. Very often, your student’s interests will change over time, and what he wanted in a college freshman year might now be different come senior year. Visit as many colleges as you can. Preferably during the school year, as it can be a vastly different environment than during the summer. Meet the admissions office. Take a tour. Stay overnight in the dorms with another student. Ask as many questions as possible. It never hurts to be overly informed. Keep a checklist of likes and dislikes at each school. Compare the list from one school to another.
Senior year, apply to all those schools which meet your criteria. Your student might not be admitted to every one, so this will further help to eliminate options. From there, see which school is the best fit, both academically, financially, and socially. Make your choice and begin the new adventure!
I just received a message from @homeschooling09 on Twitter about the upcoming Home School Legal Defense Association essay contest. This is a great opportunity to have your students practice their essay writing skills and have the incentive to win cash prizes as well.
Check out the Home School Network to learn more.
Sorry for the absence guys, been working on a new blogging setup and it’s taking a lot more work then anticipated. Hopefully it’ll be up and rolling by the middle of the week, along with the 10 step guide to college prep. But for now, here’s the latest round of questions.
How do I go about finding scholarships for my child?
First thing to do is go to FastWeb.com and create a profile. See what your student qualifies for. Do the same at ScholarshipExperts.com. These sites list outside scholarships given out by companies and organizations which don’t come from the individual colleges your son or daughter is applying to. It’s quite possible that your student will not meet the requirements for a good majority of these non-institutional scholarships. Even so, with the thousands that are available, he or she will most likely be in qualification for several. The requirements are all different. Some are academic based. Others are need based. Still others required you to be a female of french decent living in Oklahoma. These obscure ones can be hit or miss. It never hurts to apply for any of them, sometimes the committee who decides who to reward them to will choose someone who doesn’t meet all the requirements, but only if no one else does either.
Your local public library is another good resource. Most libraries have numerous books on scholarships.
Make sure to fill out the FAFSA form to see what federal and state aid you qualify for. Although not technically “scholarships,” there are many grants available that don’t need to be paid back. Usually these are based upon academic merit or need.
Lastly, check with each school your student is interested in applying to. They will usually have a scholarship list on their website or course catalog. Look into this and see what you qualify for. You never know, you just might get the whole thing paid for!
When should we start visiting colleges?
Although it’s never too early to begin visiting colleges, I probably wouldn’t start until at least freshman year of high school. Make a list, along with your student, of the potential schools interested in, and try to attend as many open houses or preview days as possible at these schools. If you’re going to be vacationing or traveling somewhere near one of your potential universities, stop by to check out the campus. Meet with the admissions office to take a tour. make a list of your likes and dislikes. By senior year, hopefully the list will be narrowed down enough to be able to make a good decision.
Writing is a skill that everyone uses in one form or another, and it’s also a skill that can always be improved upon. When it comes to college admissions, the application essay carries a lot of weight, especially for a student that is borderline entrance material. A good essay will make him stand out from the pack, but a poor essay will essentially disqualify him from consideration. For many scholarships, the essay is the defining characteristic for the scholarship award. If writing is so important, why do so few people practice it?
Homeschoolers are notoriously good writers. Probably because we have the freedom to write on topics that we enjoy, and not just on those which have been assigned us. One of the best articles I’ve read on the art of the college application essay was written several years ago by Parke Muth, assistant dean of admission at the University of Virginia. Entitled “How to avoid the Big Mac syndrome,” it was originally published in U.S. News and World Reports. Here’s just a short snippet of his knowledge and experience:
“A good essay is not good because of the topic, though that can help, but because of the student’s voice as a writer. A good writer can make almost any topic interesting. A poor writer can make even the most dramatic topic boring. A good essay always shows; a poor essay virtually always tells. By showing, a writer appeals to all of the senses, not just the visual. To show means to provide an assortment for the eyes, ears, and, depending on the essay, the mouth, nose, or skin.”
You can read the entire article here.
Since I’m in the process of writing an all inclusive guide for homeschool students on college preparation from an admissions office perspective, I’ve been fine tuning my own writing. That’s part of the reason for starting this blog. Also a good reason you and your students should write a blog, it will help get your ideas out there and provide a forum to practice your writing skills.
So, a few quick tips for essay writing for college admissions applications and scholarships.
- Be original, show who you really are. If you’re a naturally humorous person, then let it show, but don’t try to force it.
- Make the story you tell interesting. Avoid generic topics; write about what you know.
- Write from the heart and let your personality show through. Create an emotional bond with your readers.
- Take risks and be creative. It will entertain, and everyone loves to be entertained.
If you want more tips on improving your student’s essay writing skills, check out Just Colleges for free tips and sample essays. For a more expensive option, Cambridge Essay Service has some great resources.