The fall semester of senior year comes with a particular significance–college application time. Usually at this point in the high school experience, students have completed their last rounds of standardized testing and are polishing off the remaining personal statements. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, applying to college can often seem like an insurmountable obstacle. How can parents keep the household running, manage work and other children, and craft the perfect admissions application? Is there any part of the process that is within my control? Indeed, there are two. Glad you asked…
Let’s face it. Teachers sometimes struggle to complete college recommendations in a timely manner. This is not necessarily out of negligence. In fact, it is probably a safe bet to say that many teachers wish they could recommend many more students that they ultimately do each year. But the reality is that writing college recommendation letters can be time-consuming and tend to become into another box that needs checking off the ol’ to-do list. But it does not have to be this way.
Ask in advance. Approach your potential recommender a month or more before the deadline. Make it as easy as possible for recommenders to perform this favor for you and your child. Things like providing the writing prompt for the recommendation, including the URL link where they should submit, and communicating the exact deadline work wonders for streamlining the process. Then, let them know that you understand their workload, and will follow-up at weekly or biweekly intervals to relieve the pressure of them having to remember the deadline. If you are feeling extra-cautionary, fudge the deadline by telling the recommender it is a week or two earlier than in actuality. This way, you have a buffer for procrastination and can sleep cozily at night knowing the recommendation will not be late or rushed.
Over-ask for recommendation letters. If your child’s dream school requires two letters of recommendation, secure four people willing to write on their behalf. Why? Some will be stronger testaments to your child’s character than others. Some will be more timely and eloquent than others. Most importantly, though, your “Plan B” is already enacted. Better safe, than sorry, right?
Think outside the box. While it’s true that college admissions offices love to see recommendations from recent core-class teachers, there are many people in your child’s life who could offer an illuminating recommendation. Consider athletic coaches and trainers, church and community leaders, and even employers. The goal of a recommendation letter is to hear an adult who is involved in your child’s life elaborate on the strength of his or her character. So feel free to cast a wider net in your effort to find a stellar recommender.
These are the Holy Grail of college admissions. Why? Because the personal statements is the only guaranteed opportunity an applicant has to speak directly to an admissions officer. Think about it. What are the other components of an application? Transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, college resumes, etc. Not one of these elements allows your child to speak to why they are a suitable candidate for admission.
Make the most of a personal statement by having your student write about themselves. Each and every sentence is an opportunity to shed a bit of insight into their personality, dreams, goals and psyche. The picture the personal essay paints needs not be a summation of who they are (the other components sum everything up already), but rather an extremely vivid one. One good test is to change the name at the top of the essay and then reread. Is it so general in content that it could apply to literally any high school senior in America? Sentences like, “I am passionate about learning, and dedicated to achieving my goals” are major red flags. They beg the question of who isn’t passionate and dedicated these days?
Instead of generalities and platitudes, go for the juicy details. Concrete, specific and illustrative. If your child writes about a family vacation, for instance, ideally it is written such that the admissions officer gets a clear sense of what kind of vacation, family, and experience your child had. Most critically, the essay should communicate how your student feels about each and every one of these topics. The personal statement should be imbued with your child’s point of view and opinion because this reveals glimpses of who they are. Why do so in a vivid way? Because admissions officers, after all, are people too. And people remember things that resonate most with them.
So as the Early-Decision, Early-Admission, and Common Application deadlines quickly approach, wrap up the last bits of your child’s application confidently of knowing that you put the best foot forward. The rest is up to the universities.