Recommendations and college admission

There’s been some recent traffic on the e-list for the national association for college admissions counseling (NACAC) about recommendations.  I’ll start with a few posts as an overview, and then get into some of the more controversial issues (unless I get distracted – again). 

Remember that each admissions officer or committee reads THOUSANDS of applications, so this is not a competition to see who sends the most recommendations. The truth is that you can really annoy a reader with a ton of recommendations, especially if they don’t explain different information. Whatever the school asks for is sufficient, although I’d always send at least one from a teacher. A good rule of thumb is no more than one to two more than required. 

When I started my career I was at a school that requested 2-3 recommendations.  The most I ever received, right through today, was 32!!! What was worse, every recommendation looked the same.  There was a saying at the time (a time long long ago when we still used this stuff called “paper” and put your records in things called “file folders”  – yes I know, it’s like we were cavemen), that went, “the thicker the folder the thicker the kid.”  In other words, it was (and is) generally a safe bet that any applicant that sends a RIDICULOUS amount of supporting material has SOMETHING wrong…and that seemed to be the case. 

For starters, every recommendation was almost identical.  They all said something about how “Johnny” (the names have been changed to protect the clueless) was a late bloomer, how his grades didn’t reflect his potential, whata great guy he was blah blah blah.  And I mean VERY similar.  In the same order, mentioning the same things.  As if “Johnny”, that yet to bloom genius, had given the same letter to 32 people he met on the street.

Bear in mind, I was a new counselor with about a thousand applications to read.  I’m trying to get through my list, and here comes this MASSIVE folder for “Johnny”.  As I’m flipping through these very nearly identical recommendations, one after another after another, I realized something.  I hated Johnny. 

Fortunately, Johnny’s grades were truly mediocre.  So I denied him.  Then, I danced.  Wel, maybe not a full dance, but definitely some kind of gleeful expression of joy.  Something between a loud “whoopee” and a stadium wave. 

This, of course, is not the feeling you want to inspire in the person reading your application.  So beware.  Do not be “Johnny”.  If your name is “Johnny”, why do you spell it with quotation marks?  That’s just odd, and bound to confuse people. 

Where was I?  Oh yes, don’t send needless extra recommendations.  Tomorrow, what should you look for in GOOD recommendations.  Be seeing you.


2 Responses

  1. Please check your spelling before posting….see the word DEFINITELY.

  2. many thanks – two proofreaders and myself and we STILL manage to miss something that obvious. Good thing I’m not applying to college? Definitely.

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