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Articles / Applying to College / How to Handle Supplementary Recommendations

How to Handle Supplementary Recommendations

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 22, 2008

Question: My daughter has asked a teacher from a special program she participated in outside of school to write a letter of recommendation for her. He is not a high school academic teacher so she would just use his recommendation as an extra but important letter. We were thinking it might be easiest for him to give us several copies of his letter, which her guidance counselor can then include with her transcripts. However, the advice I've seen suggests giving the reference writer stamped envelopes. Is it considered wrong to ask for a letter that you would be able to view? What do you think is the best approach?

Supplementary recommendations need not be confidential, so in these situations, I typically tell my advisees to give their recommender a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In other words, the letter of reference will go back to the student and not directly to the college. If your daughter does this, then she (and you?) can review the letter first to make sure it's worth sending. Depending on where your daughter is applying, she may find that a polite endorsement with a string of predictable, albeit complimentary, adjectives ("responsible," "hard-working," "dedicated") is better stuffed in a drawer than put in the mail. At the most selective schools, unsolicited references that don't make the candidate stand out in a crowd could do more harm than good. In some cases, applicants request supplementary recommendations from two or three individuals and then review them all, sending only the best one or two--or sometimes none at all.

Since your daughter's recommender will see that the letter is going back to her, and because colleges do not expect such extra letters to be confidential, there is nothing unethical about taking this approach. You may find that this teacher tells your daughter that he is more comfortable writing a reference that she will not be able to read, but it's unlikely. He may, in fact, be delighted to say nice things about your daughter knowing full well that she'll soon know what they are. Let's hope so!

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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