Thursday, December 1, 2011

Recommendation Letters

We receive a number of questions at this time of year about teacher recommendations, so here is my (limited) advice on the subject. First, when figuring out who you should ask to write a letter of recommendation, try to find a teacher who knows you well, and has taught you within the last 1-2 years. UGA prefers teachers from core academic subjects, and we suggest you only have one teacher recommendation sent in. If you really feel like you need a second teacher recommendation (or one from a person outside the school such as a boss, a volunteer program coordinator, a minister, etc.), then I suggest the maximum should be one additional letter. Why do I say this? At a certain point, too much information starts to detract from our counselors being able to focus on the important items. If you have six recommendations in your file (and most of them will say similar things), we then start to spend more time shuffling through these letters than focusing on your other strengths.

For us, the purpose of the recommendation letters is to learn more about you from teachers/school officials who deal with you on a day to day basis, and can give us insight into what you are like in their classrooms, their hallways, and in the life of your school. Do you sleep in class, do you work well with others on projects, are you respectful to the ideas of others, do you pay attention, etc. How you act day in and day out in a HS class can give us insight into how you will be in our classrooms and in the UGA community. A recommendation letter that just gives us information that we already know, from a student's grades to activities (which are already in the file!), or holds up the applicant as the perfect student really does not help us in the review process. We are looking for insight into what the student is really like.

I still remember one of the first students I worked with in a college admissions setting, Patrick F. (almost 20 years ago!). He was a great student/person from Plano, TX, back when Plano Senior HS was the only high school in the town. One of his recommendations was from a priest/volunteer-organizer who wrote a recommendation without Patrick knowing about it. In the letter, the priest was able to give amazing insight into the type of person that Patrick was, and was able to show me what he was like when no one was watching. It talked about his positive manner of interacting with people in need of a helping hand and a kind voice, and how he was able to relate to people from a variety of backgrounds. The letter also talked about his humor, his maturity (or at times a lack of it!), and it gave me a sense of the real person. This is the type of letter that colleges desire.

So find the people that know you best, and have them share information and insights into who you truly are, warts and all.

Go Dawgs!

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