Question of the Day – Letters of Recommendation

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?


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