Appropriate Recommendation??

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Discus: College Admissions: 2002 - 2003 Archive: October 2003 Archive: Appropriate Recommendation??
By Madrigal (Madrigal) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 02:27 pm: Edit

I'm in sort of a dilemma. I am applying early to Harvard and asked a teacher for a recommendation. This teacher knows me well and graduated from Harvard in 1970; however, he was not happy with his education there and made a few comments in the letter he gave me. Now, my question is will the adcom see this as my being strong-willed, or will his negative comments affect my application package. It may be just bizarre enough to interest the adcom, but on the other hand it could be damaging. Here is what he wrote:

"It is a testement to Peter's tenacity that he has persisted in his determination to apply to Harvard despite my admonitions that he reconsider his position. As a disaffected graduate, A.B. 1970, I am forever extoling the virtues of Brown and deprecating my dear old alma mater. But Peter has ignored my good advice and persists in his obdurate determination to matriculate in Cambridge. I do believe that the fact that his father is a professor at Brown has something to do with it. At any rate, he really wants to go to Harvard and based upon my experience, he is certainly well-qualified for admission to the calss of 2008. While I would rather see him at Brown, I must accede to his wishes and wholeheartedly endorse his application. Brown's loss will be your gain."

Albeit, the last sentence certainly seems positive enough to me, I am not sure whether I should take this risk. would this be seen as obnoxious and I would be rejected, or is it an interesting presentation of my virtues? Arg! Less than two weeks left!

By Ghostman (Ghostman) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 03:55 pm: Edit

oh wow, that is a nerve-wracking recommendation...It is very negative. I doubt it would fly well with the admissions people...

You may want to find another teacher to write your rec; I wouldn't send it.

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:08 pm: Edit

If the rest of the letter is about you and not the teacher, and if it is strong, then his comments about Harvard will not hurt you. Adcoms will not hold it against you that one of your teachers was not happy there. But be sure the letter is strongly in your support.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:08 pm: Edit

If that's all he wrote, I'd find another teacher. He didn't give any reasons for Harvard to accept you except that you persisted in applying despite the teacher's recommondation that you apply elsewhere.

Your teacher's just saying that you really want to go to Harvard isn't a good recommendation. With the country's highest yield, Harvard is used to students to who view Harvard as their very strong first choice.

What Harvard adcoms look for is evidence that the adcoms should select the student, and that evidence isn't provided in the recommendation that you posted.

Also saying that a candidate is "well qualified" for admission isn't enough. Virtually all of Harvard's candidates are well qualified for admission. My view is that an alum's saying that a candidate is well qualified for admission is code language for the alum's saying, "Don't bother to admit this one."

By Madrigal (Madrigal) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:17 pm: Edit

The first two paragraphs of the recommendation (this is the last paragraph) are pretty strong, but not great.


My view is that an alum's saying that a candidate is well qualified for admission is code language for the alum's saying, "Don't bother to admit this one."

Definitely not how he feels. Sorry.

By Ansible (Ansible) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:22 pm: Edit

I would say, find a teacher who is going to actually recommend you.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 04:27 pm: Edit

If, then, that is the teacher's best effort to write a letter that would help you, I do think you'd be better off using another teacher.

I think that most Harvard grads who are teachers would get involved in alumni affairs (including interviewing applicants) -- if they wanted to help their students. Alumni get lots of inside info about the admissions process.

I also think that Harvard adcoms would assume that an alum who is a high school teacher would have an insider's perspective on what the adcom's look for. I think that the adcom's might think that your teacher meant to give them a message that you aren't special enough to be worth admittance.

I also think that it's bad judgment on your part to ask an alum who hates his college to write a recommendation for you to attend his college. He might be a great person to recommend you to other colleges, though, but if he really hated Harvard yet really likes you, he might even think he'd do you a favor if he prevented your being admitted to Harvard.

By Tennizpro06 (Tennizpro06) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 06:53 pm: Edit

ahh.. tough situation. have you tried asking your teacher politely to revise his letter?

By Madrigal (Madrigal) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 07:14 pm: Edit

After getting the advice of some other people, I have decided to send this recommendation. My feeling is that the adcom will appreciate a little humor. Every other applicant will have stellar recs and this will only make me stand out. If it keeps me out of Harvad, so be it. Northstarmom, you seem to be rather concerned with the ins and outs of alumni relations. Your situation seems akin to conspiracy theory to me. Albeit I was not expecting this sort of recommendation, I think that it is at least somewhat amusing. Dissappointingly enough, I find many of your comments insulting and am dissappointed by your lack of grounding. This teacher is NOT trying to prevent my being admitted, nor is he trying to tell the adcoms that they shouldn't let me in. I feel that the rest of my application is strong enough that this piece of humor cannot damage my standing enough to warrant a rejection.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 07:56 pm: Edit

You asked for advice, and many of us gave it. I am a Harvard alum, have been extremely involved in alum activities, know a couple of adcoms, and also have been for several years an alumna interviewer for Harvard.

You certainly don't have to take my advice. However, for you to say that you find my comments insulting and that you think I'm not grounded demonstrates a lack of wisdom about the process.

I find it strange that you yourself were wondering about the wisdom of using the letter, and after you got some feedback that supported your reservations,you're now gung-ho about using a letter.

I don't think that adcoms are looking for recommendation letters that are bizarre, humorous or that describe what the writers don't like about Harvard. Adcoms are looking for letters that clearly state why an applicant should be one of the 1 in 10 that gets a Harvard acceptance.

However, it's your life. And come December and/or April, you'll see whether using the letter paid off. Best of luck.

By Madrigal (Madrigal) on Monday, October 20, 2003 - 08:20 pm: Edit

My teacher, who is also an Harvard alum, thought it was amusing. In terms of grounding, that was more a comment on your EQ as oppossed to your knowledge about the admissions process. I'll be the first to admit that I have a lack of wisdom about the process; this is, after all, the first and only time I will be applying to colleges. After talking with my parents, and an Harvard professor, I have decided that this letter is appropriate. As for my change of heart, I must admit that it was in part to spite you after you suggested that the letter was "code language for the alum's saying, 'Don't bother to admit this one.'" Well, after those hard feelings, I apologize and I was indeed harboring some doubts. I appreciate that you took the time to give me advice, but I am going to send it. I do not have my heart set on Harvard, and would be happy at almost all of the other schools I am applying to. However, I would still like to hope that the adcom will step down off his scholarly pedestal and appreciate the humor.

--Peace and Love,

By Rosiebabe5 (Rosiebabe5) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 12:38 am: Edit

Have most of you guys seen your recs??

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 12:41 am: Edit

I was under the impression that most code language for "take this student at your own risk" are such things as:

*Attractive student
*Great personality (both do not mention student's qualifications)
*shy, doesn't say much in class
*irks other students

Now, for a school like MIT, saying that a kid is a great candidate for admission could be code for "reject him" as the workload is so intense. However, any student who can be admitted to Harvard is capable of doing the work; they are very good about getting students through their four years. The famous line... the hardest part about Harvard is getting in. If Madrigal is a good candidate for admission, he would be able to do the work.

I just cannot conceive of how the teacher's statement would be code for something negative when it could either have been omitted entirely or replaced with something similar to my above list.

If you send the rec, make sure that Harvard is well aware of the fact that you want to go. A cover letter is almost necessary here.

By Neo (Neo) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 12:44 am: Edit


However, it's an honor to do so if you can -- especially if what's written about you is to your benefit -- provided that adcoms don't become aware of it.

By Ajhayes (Ajhayes) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 12:46 am: Edit

Hey, do you know the address of the Admissions department at Harvard? I'm filling out all my teacher rec forms and Harvard is one of the schools I'm applying to but I can't find the address anywhere. Please help! Thanks!

By Rosiebabe5 (Rosiebabe5) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 12:55 am: Edit

I tried to post this, but it didn't work: Have most of you seen your recs??

By Chen (Chen) on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - 04:55 am: Edit

I have not seen any of my recs, tho I have seen some of my friends'. They're from academic-level teachers and none of them are English teachers though. They're a bunch of BS and basically a restatement of the resume.

I fail to see how that paragraph is amusing. It seemed offensive to me, and I'm not part of Harvard. You're right that the last line is positive, and I sincerely hope the first 2 paragraphs make you out to be something special, but I don't think this paragraph will greatly affect their opinion of YOU as long as the first 2 are all about you

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