Monday, February 1, 2010

Sue Scheff: Teen's Getting Teacher Recommendations for College Applications

As your High School Juniors and Seniors prepare to apply to colleges, getting teacher recommendations is usually part of the process. Today colleges have become competitive and more selective on their applicants. Many college recruiters are using search engines to research their applicant, however the old-fashion teacher recommendations are also an asset. Here is a great article to help parents and teens to better understand this process.

Source: Connect with Kids

Teacher Recommendations

“I only see a few (recommendation letters) that are really specifically negative, but a few are less than positive. That’s the best way I can put it. Where they say, ‘Well, this student may be strong in this area in the future,’ or, ‘They have a lot of potential.’”

– David Graves, Associate Director of Admissions, University of Georgia

Across the country, high school seniors are in the midst of applying to college. One important factor is a recommendation from a teacher – a task that is not always without risk.

“I only see a few that are really specifically negative, but a few are less than positive,” says David Graves, associate director of admissions at the University of Georgia. “That’s the best way I can put it. Where they say, ‘Well, this student may be strong in this area in the future,’ or, ‘They have a lot of potential.’”

He says “a lot of potential” is one of those phrases that shows a teacher has reservations.

“They might say something like, ‘They turn in all their information on time,’” he adds. “Well, I expect that from everybody pretty much, so just having that as their best praise isn’t much of a praise.”

Another risk is that letters can be so vague as to become meaningless.

“That doesn’t give me any insight if its just a run-of-the-mill ‘here’s my formula’ recommendation letter,” says Graves.

His advice? Students should ask the teacher directly if they would give a positive review.

“Just say, ‘How do you feel I’ve done in your class?’” suggests Graves.

“If you are really having doubts, I would probably reconsider asking that teacher,” says Afrooz, a high school senior at Atlanta International School.

Also, kids should choose a teacher who can be specific about their skills and efforts in the classroom.

“I felt like I wanted teachers who knew me,” says Eva, 18, “not just as a strong student, but as a person.”

Another tip is to find the right teacher. A good choice is a math or English teacher from junior year.

“It might be a teacher that teaches, you know, driver’s ed,” says Graves. “And that’s not going to matter that much to me what the driver’s ed teacher says.”

Finally, he says, ask for the letter at least a month in advance.

“I think I asked for my letter about two or three months before it was due,” says senior Graham, “just to make sure that they had time.”

“I was kind of late so I kind of had to do a little begging,” says classmate Rodrigo.

Experts advise students to get to know their guidance counselor as well, because many universities require the counselor to fill out an evaluation form.

Students once allowed the luxury of “finding themselves” now fear that without serious direction early in high school, their future may be lost. What they may lose instead is their childhood.

College enrollment has increased nearly 20% since 1985 and almost tripled from a generation ago. With competition for specific schools fiercer than ever, high school freshmen hoping to go to a choice school are told they may already be behind in the race to build a college résumé.

“I guess in middle school they start emphasizing they’re like, OK, you gotta start getting good grades ’cause colleges will look back even at your eighth-grade year if you’re on the brink of getting in or not getting in,” 17-year-old Sharyn says.

However, good grades may only get them past the first cut. Then, it’s outside activities like volunteer work or special clubs that factor in as much as 40% by some colleges.

Says 17-year-old Andrew: “Sometimes, I find that I take too many things at once – track, academic, math team … I mean, it’s really time consuming.”

Experts say parents of these pressurized kids need to look closely for signs of too much stress and urge them to ease up.

Tips for Parents

It’s one of the most difficult and important decisions your child will make in his or her young adult life. And no parent of a high school junior or senior needs reminding of the pressure that selecting a school brings to his or her child and the entire family.

Recent statistics reveal that it’s also more competitive to enroll in college than years before. Between 1985 and 1995, higher education enrollment increased by 16%, due in part to an increase in female enrollment and the new trend of part-time students. And while experts urge parents to have an open dialogue with their child to deal with the stress, there are a few changes in the process that will make enrolling in a school easier.

More and more schools are turning to the Internet to disperse information, easing the workload on counselors and empowering the curious student. A word of caution: stay with reliable sites or go to a specific college website to verify application deadlines.

Another stress reliever: The trend toward hiring assistance for the essay portion of an application seems to be subsiding. More and more colleges have stated that they are looking for creative responses, even if they are unpolished. And many universities have dropped the essay portion of the application altogether, relying on scores and recommendations to make their decision.

Here are a few starting steps to help you or your child pick the right college or training program:

Request as much information as possible from the schools on your list, including an application for admission, financial aid and all costs.
Make a short list of the schools that possess the characteristics for which you are looking.
Decide if a traditional college is right for you – consider picking up information on community technical schools.

Mapping Your Future
National Center for Education Statistics

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