Recommendations question...

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Recommendations question...
By Irock1ce (Irock1ce) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:36 pm: Edit

I posted this in the college admissions section... but I am seeking the sages of the Parents section to help me with this.

This is a copy and paste that I sent to my region's admissions officer:

I will be applying to Yale EA this fall and I have a question about recommendations. On the Yale website, it says that Yale strongly recommends recommendations from the 11th and 12th grades. But what if I have a teacher who taught me in the 10th grade and has told me that he considers me one of his top 3 students he has ever taught in his life. I loved his class and he happens to know me very very well. How much would choosing him to write me a recommendation hurt me? Is Yale so strict on recommendations that this would hinder me considerably? The other choice I would have is a teacher who I currently have and I had last year but definitely does not know me as well... However, she did agree to write me a recommendation and still likes me very much.

By Marite (Marite) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 11:47 pm: Edit

My S asked a question of adcoms about recs at two different schools (not Yale) via email and received prompt replies right away; they happened not to be the same.

Chances are you will be told that the 10th grade teacher can write a supplementary rec. It would be best if the teacher did not teach in the same field as the two 11th and 12th grade teachers you will be soliciting recs from.

By Irock1ce (Irock1ce) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 12:02 am: Edit

yale doesnt like supp. recs.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 12:25 am: Edit

Well, since you sent a query to the Yale adcom, you should be receiving a reply soon. Let us know what the answer is.

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 10:25 am: Edit

Does the teacher guide an EC, have a senior year course, teach a sport, etc., that you could be involved in, so it's both a 10th and senior-year connection? Perhaps you could TA for him/her? Help after school? Babysit his kid?

What you're looking for is a way to extend the connection so that the teacher can say "I've known this kid for three years and wow I'm still impressed."

By Amethyst213 (Amethyst213) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 10:42 am: Edit

My daughter's 10th grade math teacher had the same feelings about her being one of the top students she had ever taught. Daughter was on math team all through HS where this teacher was the advisor, so really knew her well in and out of class. We asked the same question of Yale adcom last year - when they say they want recs from 11th and 12th grade teachers they mean it! No exceptions period.

By Eadad (Eadad) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 10:52 am: Edit

Yale was quite adamant about keeping files small..they even went to far as to say that the large files go to the bottom. Remember, last year they got over 19,500 apps and it will probably be higher this year. Listen to what they say or it could have an adverse impact on your decision. One adcom even said something like " if they can't or won't follow instructions, it tells us something about them."

The only type of supplemental rec they will accept is one that will shed a completely different perspective than that of the teachers, ie, a coach, out of school activity sponsor, employer, etc. It must also be something that is not a rehash of what the teachers and counselors have already said.

By Tiesrule (Tiesrule) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 02:02 pm: Edit

do you know how other colleges feel about sophomore year teachers? for example, is Princeton as well as liberal arts colleges

By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 02:13 pm: Edit

When they say "Strongly Recommend", I think you should take them literally.

By Aparent4 (Aparent4) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 02:14 pm: Edit

Can't speak for this year, but in the past sophomore year teachers have been fine at Princeton, although they have said preferably teachers from junior and senior year. Makes sense, given that if you are applying early your senior year teachers don't know you very well yet. At Princeton there is also a supplementary rec form. At Yale my d was told, "The less paper you send in the better." That has not been, up to now, Princeton's attitude.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 02:15 pm: Edit

S asked both Princeton and Harvard and received different answers (not about sophomore year teachers, though). So even at Ivies, one cannot generalize. Both adcoms replied within a day of receiving S's query.

By Tiesrule (Tiesrule) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 02:16 pm: Edit

thank you, Aparent4.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 03:57 pm: Edit

I have another question about recommendations -
Do most students ask the same one or two teachers to write all of their recommendations for all of the schools they're applying to? Seems like an enormous favor to ask when kids are applying to 6, 10, even 15 schools.

By Northstarmom (Northstarmom) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 04:15 pm: Edit

I think that most students ask the same teachers. Most teachers use the same letter of recommendation. At most, they'll change the header, but often, they'll just use a "To Whom it May Concern" header instead of "Dear Harvard (etc.) Adcom).

What's hardest about recommendations is the initial work in remembering and writing specific details about a student that would be helpful to an admissions committee. Once that work is done, it's easy to make multiple copies. Wise teachers also will save copies of the letter in case the students ask them for additional ones. Wise students will, if the teachers show them or give them the letter unsealed, make a copy of the letter. These students will keep a copy to give to the teachers to use if the students ever need another recommendation.

It's also possible that the letter might be useful for scholarship or other opportunities that come up as late as freshman year in college.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 06:04 pm: Edit

At our school the teacher writes a generic letter on letterhead for every student who asks them. Then, the teacher completes the checkbox collge-specific form for those schools which request it- and adds supplemental information the individual school might request in that form.

The guidance counselor then copies the recommendations (which of course son has waived the right to see) as needed for the given schools.

Both sons were lucky to have teachers in both humanities and math/science domains who had known them for at least 2 school years, including either Junior or senior year. We "tested the waters" with some by asking them to write recommendations for summer programs!!

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 06:18 pm: Edit

We "tested the waters" with some by asking them to write recommendations for summer programs!!

Super point! we did the same. just because a teacher likes the student doesn't mean that teacher can write a good rec

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Saturday, September 04, 2004 - 06:35 pm: Edit

S's English teacher in 10th grade had written a "brilliant" (in the British sense, not the American sense) recommendation for him for a program. GC at the time told us so (though we had elected not to see it). This year, S's schedule could have included that teacher, but didn't, for AP LitComp II. S went to the GC, reminded him of the brilliant rec...and of S's intention to ask the same teacher for a rec this year....and that was enough justification for a change in teacher(which otherwise is not allowable) the English teacher any child would love to have.

It is clear that planning for recommendations is something to think about early-mid HS, not senior year, so that relationships can be nurtured.

By Eadad (Eadad) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:05 pm: Edit


In our case the same teachers wrote all of his recs. They are all in a Word file so after the first one is done it's usually just a matter of changing the individual school info within the narrative or header.

The teachers in our case used the college supplied rec form simply as an attachment to the narratives that they wrote.

The real key is asking the teachers before the end of junior year so that they can have an idea of how many requests they will have and thus be able to handle. Waiting until the start of senior year to ask could cause a problem of teacher availablilty to write them.

By Aparent4 (Aparent4) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 02:35 pm: Edit

Like other above, we did a trial run with one teacher and although she gushed, it wasn't specific or particularly eloquent. After that, we asked the teachers to give the recs to the GC, who was willing to tell d whether or not they would fill the bill. Then he sent them directly to the school.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 05:04 pm: Edit

Thanks! I do think it's a great idea to plan senior and junior year courses with recommendations in mind. My daughter has already decided to take Honors Asian Studies next year (her senior year) with the AP Euro teacher she had last year (10th grade), partially for this reason (she also really loved the teacher in the end). The teacher is also known for the wonderful and very personal college recommendations she gives. I do have some sense of how her recommendations might read as over the summer she took the time to write letters to both my daughter and us describing my daughter's accomplishments in AP last year. She really does know my daughter very well.

My fear, however, is that she will not be able to get a recommendation for a science/math teacher - she's mostly done her science work in summer school and she's at best a middling student in math. So, her recommendations will end up being heavily slanted towards English and social sciences, plus the French teacher who will have taught her all 4 years. Luckily, she's looking at being a humanities or social sciences major so hopefully this won't matter in the end.

My daughter is lucky in that she has developed a very good relationship with her guidance counselor. They are working together on setting up a peer counseling program this year. Hopefully a good personal recommendation from her will overcome the lack of math/science teacher recs!

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 05:15 pm: Edit


Some schools allow for supplemental recs. If your D takes some summer science classes, ask the teacher to write a rec at the end of the session. As a supplemental rec, it probably does not need to be attached to the rec form but can stand alone. A cover letter explaining that the situation should be okay.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 05:19 pm: Edit

Good idea. I think I will tell my daughter to contact her chem teacher from this past summer.
Thanks as usual!

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 05:20 pm: Edit

By the way Marite - not to hijack this thread but what schools are now on your Son's current list?

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 06:32 pm: Edit

As you know, he wants to be in schools with good graduate math and physics departments, so that eliminates some terrific LACs. He also does not want to be in large universities, so that also eliminates some terrific state universities such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Berkeley.
Patient will be happy to hear that Stanford is back on the list, despite the lack of snow.
Others are Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Chicago and Brown.

By Patient (Patient) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 06:57 pm: Edit

Hey, Marite, that's great! Send me an email if you have any specific questions and I'll try to find answers.
School doesn't start until the 27th and freshman orientation and move-in is on the 20th, so I can't tell you much yet, but will ask S along the way if yours has specific questions. Mine is leaning toward math but of course who knows once they arrive...the menu is so large.

And to give my two cents' (about what it's worth) to the OP, I don't think that a superlative recommendation from the teacher who loves you the most is a make-or-break thing, and I agree that what the school wants is current teachers, because so much can change from one year to the next. It would look strange to choose someone different, except perhaps in exceptional circumstances.

The recommendations are not the core of your application: you, your transcript, and your scores are. The recommendations round out the picture, may subtly highlight "issues", confirm what is already in the transcript about rigor of courses, class participation, and going above and beyond.

At our school, though, the school's recommendation, written by the student's teacher-advisor, specifically draws on quotes from many sources, including teachers, coaches, employers, etc--one of the tasks junior year is for the student to solicit these "short forms" and give them to the teacher-advisor. So what you might do is to ask this teacher to go to the person who is writing your school recommendation and volunteer these superlatives about you, and perhaps they will make it into the school's recommendation.

I think that my son submitted a supplemental recommendation but I'm having trouble remembering who it was--but I think it was his travel team coach. The coach talked about not only his athletic ability but also his character, and had known him for 8 years so that may have been helpful, who knows.

By Irock1ce (Irock1ce) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 07:38 pm: Edit

Here is the response i received:

Although we recommend that your letters come from teachers who have
instructed you in the 11th and 12th grade, it is by no means a cut and
dry rule. Given the relationship between you and your 10th grade
instructor, it sounds like he would be the most appropriate individual
to write your letter. It will not hinder your application.

On another note, I am giving an evening session at ******* HS on
Thursday, October 7th at 7PM. Please join me and I look forward to
visiting your area.

Alexis Hoag

I will be using my sophomore teacher's recommedation.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 07:47 pm: Edit


By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 11:03 pm: Edit

Irock - Thank you for posting the response. That's very helpful. And I hope you'll be going to that info session! Best of luck!

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 11:06 pm: Edit

Stanford is back on the list, despite the lack of snow.
Others are Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Chicago and Brown.>>

Marite, thanks for the update. From how you've described your son, I can see him at many of those schools. I can't wait to see where he ends up! But I still wish he lived nearby so he could tutor my daughter in math (LOL!).

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 11:09 pm: Edit

Just remembered - there was a father on the college choice board who said his son investigated princeton for undergrad math and heard some negatives. This post was in the past week or so - you may want to check it out.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 05, 2004 - 11:14 pm: Edit


Thanks for the heads up. Will check. Truth to tell, there is no school that is absolutely perfect but also no school where he would be miserable. As long as he ends up at one on his list, he will be happy and so will we.

By Over30 (Over30) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 12:15 am: Edit

We have so many students that the teachers set a limit on how many recs they will write. It's gotten to the point that if you don't ask the teacher the first week of school (or sooner) then you're out of luck. And of course everyone wants the AP teachers to write their recs. The problem is, there simply aren't enough junior year teachers to write all of the recs. The students end up having to ask a senior year teacher, whom they've sometimes never even met, to write the recs. And if they're applying early, then the teacher has to write the rec after having them in class for 2 months or less. How does the student know if the teacher can write a coherent letter, or more importantly, what the teacher might write if they have to ask for the rec before class has started?

I understand that they want current information, but this is a real problem at our school. My son asked his junior year AP English teacher before school was out junior year and she was already booked up. He ended up using a sophomore humanities teacher who was the sponsor for one of his current activities. For a summer program after junior year he used an 8th grade teacher who still had contact with him through another activity. He had to use this teacher because his current teachers were busy writing college rec letters for the seniors.

And our guidance counselors each have 500-600 students (about 125 seniors), most of whom are college bound, so getting to know a GC takes enormous effort.

Any ideas on how to deal with this?

By Irock1ce (Irock1ce) on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 12:30 am: Edit

wow. your school is amazingly busy. At my school, im the only person asking recommendations from 2 of my teachers.. the third one im sure has several asking. But with the GC problem, we each have to write a "Senior Profile" which allows the GC to raed and then understand us much better.

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