Letters of Recommendation
Can you believe that another school year is upon us? This is an exciting time as you and your teens anticipate new courses, new opportunities, new growth and much more.
Teens looking ahead to college, other types of training, careers, or applying for scholarships will discover that letters of recommendation may be requested. These letters can catch the eyes of the persons reviewing the application and cause them to take a closer look at the applicant. Because of their importance, we want to talk about some of the aspects to consider concerning these letters.
|Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Learn more >>
Who to Choose
Letters of recommendation are tailored for the position or scholarship award a student is seeking. Some will speak to the person’s character traits, others to the academic abilities. If a student is applying to a Christian school, a recommendation on his or her spiritual life or faith may be requested.
In all of these situations, it’s important to choose carefully the people who will write the letters for your teens. It’s preferable to seek out persons who know your teen well. Letters that lend a tone of familiarity to the student and give specific, personal insights and examples to the reader are well received.
Don’t wait until the senior year to begin thinking about these letters. You can plan now to provide opportunities and venues for your teens to become acquainted with potential teachers, employers, church leaders, volunteer or community service supervisors who may be sources for writing recommendation letters. These individuals will give colleges and employers an additional glimpse of your teen, introducing her as a “real” person rather than as impersonal data to be assessed.
More specifically, whom should you ask to submit letters of recommendation? Again, it will depend on the purpose of the letter. Teens applying for employment will usually be asked on the application to list several references whom the employer may contact. Your teen should always ask references ahead of time if it is acceptable to them to be named on an application. This advance notice will give the reference person time to prepare a list of qualities your teen possesses so that he or she will be able to confidently chat or write about your teen’s strengths. Those pursuing college or vocational and technical training may seek recommenders more related to their direction and major.
It’s helpful to remind your teen about the importance of doing well in every course he takes from an outside instructor, giving his best at any part—time job, and participating with enthusiasm in every extracurricular or volunteer activity. Helping your teen to connect the dots between a job well done now and a great recommendation letter later, serves to increase teen motivation!
Debra Bell in her book The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling Teens, and Denise Boiko, Homeschooled & Headed for College, provide numerous suggestions for recommendation writers including:
- Community college professors your teens sit under in dual enrolled courses;
- Professionals who make hiring decisions or are successful individuals in your community;
- Teachers who have taught your teens in high school academic subjects;
- Experts in the field of study your teen is considering;
- Unbiased individuals who can highlight your teen’s work ethic or character traits such as a pastor, mentor, coach, music instructor.
In every instance, the emphasis is on people who know your teen well. You may also want to choose a variety of persons so the information presented about your teen is not repetitive but brings out new aspects and provides particulars necessary for a well—rounded appraisal.
We are often asked if parents should or can write a letter of recommendation. Don’t rely on what “someone” tells you, but contact the school or check the college website for guidelines. Many times the school may feel that the parent will be too biased. However, they may accept your recommendation if it is tendered with others written by people not related to the teen.
If you the parent do submit a letter, strive for the right balance between sharing the strengths of your teen and speaking about areas of weakness. If your teen has overcome some difficulty to achieve a milestone or understanding of a course, you will certainly want to share this experience in your letter. However, resist a bragging tone but instead opt for one of humility and honesty.
How Many Letters to Submit
The teens need to follow the guidelines given by the institutions to which they are applying or those stated on the employment application. If two letters are requested, send two (not three or four). Schools and employers must read many letters of recommendation and it facilitates the process if their requests are adhered to.
In some instances, such as transfer student applications, letters of recommendations are not required. Some schools will make them optional and will state how many will be accepted. If this is the case, then sending letters may provide a favorable boost to a student’s application.
When to Ask
It’s advisable for your teen to approach those she wishes to write letters well in advance of the deadlines for submitting the applications. Four to six weeks will give these individuals plenty of time to compose and submit the letters. Be sure to give them clear instructions on submission deadlines and ask if they would like a reminder.
Be considerate by not burdening one person with too many requests. Have your teen communicate if he wishes them to write recommendations for more than one school. This will give them a heads—up to save the information they used so they can possibly retool it for another school.
Another consideration may be to ask for a letter shortly after a class was taken, a summer job completed, or community service worked while your teen is “fresh in the mind” of the writer. If the teen waits until the senior year to request these letters, the instructor, employer, or supervisor may have moved or be impossible to contact due to changes in phone numbers or email addresses. If the letter requested is far in advance, it may be best to ask for a general letter of recommendation rather than having no recommendation at all!
What to Include
Students should be familiar with the guidelines given in the application and follow them carefully. They will want to provide those writing letters all the information they will need such as details about themselves and instructions from the schools receiving the letters.
Some school applications provide forms with specific questions to be filled out by the recommender while others leave it up to the individual on what to write. If a teacher or coach wants some input on what to include, provide them with some points and examples about the student to refresh his or her memory. Denise Boiko suggests such items as motivation, maturity, academic and personal strengths and weaknesses, approach to learning, sense of humor, respect for peers and teachers or coaches, etc.
The College Board’s website features a comprehensive section on letters of recommendation. It provides tips for students on how to generate a great recommendation letter by filling out a self—assessment questionnaire to give to letter writers, advice for parents on what to include in a letter of recommendation, and even a helpful list of do’s and don’ts relating to recommendation letters. Additionally, a quick search on the internet will lead you to other sources for information and tips.
How to Submit
Your teens should take note of the specific instructions colleges and other institutions give for submitting the letters. Some will request the recommenders to return the letter in a sealed envelope directly to the schools. If this is the case, have your teens provide stamped, self—addressed envelopes to facilitate the process. Other schools will allow the students to include the letters with the application allowing the student to read what was written about them. This could be encouraging to your teen—and also provide suggestions on areas he may need to improve.
Once the application packet is sent to the colleges or once your student has found employment, remind them to send thank—you notes to those who graciously recommended them for the positions. Since thank—you notes are becoming rarer, it will make a favorable impression on the individuals and they will likely remember your teen for quite some time.
These are exciting days for you and your teens as you look ahead to what the future holds. If you are members of HSLDA, we are always available to answer your questions and direct you to helpful information. We thank you for your support! We also appreciate those of you who are not currently members but faithfully read our newsletters. Maybe this is the year to consider joining so we have the opportunity to become better acquainted by email or phone. If you want to learn about all the benefits you receive with membership, check out HSLDA’s website.
Come back next month to learn the basics of lesson planning and how to teach the old fashion way!
Anticipating another fruitful year to serve you,
Becky Cooke & Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants