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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let's Talk About Recommendations

Today is the first day of school for students in our community. My Facebook feed is a long string of photos of smiling sons and daughters waiting for school buses wearing new outfits and light backpacks. 

In my admission officer mind, that leads to thinking about teachers, which leads to thinking about teacher recommendations.

In recent years, it seems that student think that when a school asks for something, the truly strong candidates do than and a little bit more.  So, when UVa asks for two recommendation letters (one from the counselor and one from a teacher), some think that they have to track down extra people to reiterate the good things that will be shared on the required letters.  This really isn't necessary.

First of all, your counselor will usually write about the "big picture" items like your curriculum and what your class is like overall.  Some counselors are able to spend enough time with their students to share a few stories, but many stick with the general.  You can think of them as setting the scene.

The teacher recommendation will be more specific and talk about you in the classroom, day-to-day.  This is where we hear about the project you did that went above and beyond their expectations or about the time class discussion went in a great direction because of something you said. 

Those two recommendations are going to give us plenty of information.  Most applicants should not be spending time chasing down more people to reiterate the ideas that were presented in their required recommendations. 

If you feel like there's something we need to know that won't come across in your application unless we hear from someone else, you can submit a supplemental recommendation.  Make sure there's a true reason for it.

I'll have more to say in my next post, but for now, feel free to post questions you have about recommendations.