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Articles / Applying to College / HS Counselor Reveals Biggest Rec Letter Pet Peeves

Jan. 3, 2019

HS Counselor Reveals Biggest Rec Letter Pet Peeves

HS Counselor Reveals Biggest Rec Letter Pet Peeves
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Recommendation letters are typically an integral part of the college admissions process. Students have a duty to ask the right people to write recommendations for them and should help prepare recommenders to write compelling letters. But then the hard part starts for the other side — teachers, counselors and coaches actually have to write the rec letters, and many of them may have requests from multiple students.

Undoubtedly, the process of writing college recommendations can be laborious for those people writing the letters. Many counselors have occasional gripes about writing letters of recommendations that students should know. Diane Campbell, college counselor at Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins, Colo., shares these nine “pet peeves:"


1. Students who ask the day it's due.

2. Recommendation forms that ask me six questions about the student, 500 words each, and then want a letter uploaded.

3. The lack of understanding regarding how much time it takes for a counselor to write a compelling letter.

4. Not a lot of support systems and training in place to help guide teachers/counselors in what colleges and/or scholarships want in a letter of recommendation.

5. Counselors feeling they are required to write a letter of recommendation when a college doesn't require it.

6. Trying to navigate and keep track of how every college asks for a recommendation. Some require institutional forms whereas others are fine with freeform letters.

7. Lack of clear instruction from students to know how many rec letters they actually need.

8. The “I need two myth." Most students think they need two letters, when, in fact, they sometimes need one or none.

9. When you want to write a compelling, supportive letter for the student, but with all the large student caseloads and lack of time of being a counselor, sometimes you just don't know the student and it's therefore really difficult to write a letter.

Process Sparks Peeves

Nancy Polin, an independent counselor and president of Educational Excellence in Palm Beach County, Fla., has a pet peeve about the entire letter of recommendation process and its role in college admissions.

“I just think it makes for a very uneven playing field — that's my pet peeve about letters of recommendation," says Polin.

Some colleges use letters of recommendation heavily in the decision-making process, and there is no guarantee that the letter is going to be an accurate reflection of the student, since it depends on how well a teacher or counselor knows the student and how much knowledge they have about the process.

“Students, especially in the really competitive schools like top-tier and Ivy schools, can be at a disadvantage because of that," explains Polin. “Because when you're talking about students that go to the top-top schools in the country, those teachers and other guidance counselors are adept and extremely well-trained and well-versed in exactly what to put in those letters that they know what exactly the admission counselors are looking for and what to home in on…but in public schools where teachers are probably overworked more and have large caseloads, the letters may not be as strong."

To help students in making requests for letters of recommendations, Polin asks them to create a “cheat sheet" for the teacher that has specific anecdotes about themselves that can help them in developing their recommendation letters.

Written by

Elena Loveland

Elena Loveland

Elena Loveland has been a writer and editor covering higher education and college admissions for 18 years and is the author of Creative Colleges: Finding the Best Programs for Aspiring Artists, Designers, Dancers, Musicians, Writers, and More. Creative Colleges has earned recognition in the College Bound Teen, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Gate and U.S. News and World Report's Annual College Guide. Loveland has spoken at the Independent Educational Consultants Association and the University of the Arts, as well as several high schools about college admission for creative students. She has worked for the National Association for College Admission Counseling as editor of the Journal of College Admission and for NAFSA: Association of International Educators as editor-in-chief of International Educator magazine. As an independent journalist, Loveland.s work has appeared in numerous publications such as American Careers, Dance Teacher, Hispanic Outlook on Higher Education, International Educator, Pointe, Teen Vogue, University Business and the U.S. News & World Report's Annual College Guide, among several others. She has a master's degree in English and has been an adjunct instructor at three higher education institutions. Loveland provides private college admissions consulting to families upon request. She lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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