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Articles / Applying to College / College Rec from College Prof?

College Rec from College Prof?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 22, 2013

Question: Hi, my son is in the midst of applications and schools are asking for letters of recommendations from high school teachers. Because he is in taking college classes through post-secondary option, he wanted to use his professor in his college level calculus class instead. Would this be OK?

Yep, that’s fine. The only caveat is this: If the class is big and the professor knows your son’s performance primarily through his tests and other grades, it’s not the same as if the prof actually knows HIM. Colleges are looking for some insight into how each applicant stands out in the crowd beyond the “numbers.” Granted, in many public high schools (and even in some private ones), teachers may not be able to provide this information either … or aren’t skilled enough in their writing to do so. Thus, admission folks are accustomed to reading references that say little beyond, “Jeremy is an A student who will succeed at the college of his choice.” But your son’s goal should be to select a recommender who knows more about him than just his GPA. So, no matter how well he’s doing in calculus, if the professor can barely match your son’s face to his name (or merely views him as “that quiet kid in the corner with the orange backpack and the 99”) then it’s not a wise choice.

Note also that if your son is applying to college through the Common Application, you may have some technical problems when it comes to “inviting” an outsider to write a reference. (This year’s new version of the Common App has spawned lots of snafus that didn’t exist before, and the corrections are still a work in progress.) If these obstacles exist–and seem insurmountable by deadline time–your son should provide the professor with a stamped envelope addressed to every college on his list and ask the prof to snail-mail the reference, making sure that your son’s full name and high school name are on every copy.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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