Behind the scenes: How guidance counselors help seniors with college letters

June 6, 2023 — by Natalie Chua
Photo by Natalie Chua
Guidance counselor Frances Saiki works in her office.
Each counselor has a different process for writing their letters of recommendation for students.

Each May, the school’s four guidance counselors introduce rising seniors to the process that will consume much of the next academic year: college applications in general and letters of recommendation in particular. 

First, forms are sent out on Canvas for rising seniors to fill in information regarding their characteristics, talents and hobbies in order for the counselors to write college letters of recommendation. Counselors recommend students request two letters of recommendation from teachers and another one from a counselor or administrator. 

On top of that, counselors also ask parents to provide them with a statement for any additional information about their perspective and their children’s life growing up. Counselors then recommend that students ask for  green sheets — forms for mentors other than the primary teacher letter of recommendation writers — that help present students in a different light beyond academic characteristics. 

“This information helps us write a very comprehensive, unique and individualistic counselor administrator letter for our students,” Saiki said. 

Each counselor uses their own distinct method for gathering information about their students and writing out their letter of recommendation.

“Personally, I write two paragraphs about their personality and interactions I have had with them with specific examples or anecdotes, and then I will include specific accomplishments and activities such as leadership,” Saiki said.   

Each counselor writes from 50 to 70 letters every year about their seniors — a tremendous workload that must be spread out over weeks. Counselors differ in terms of how they approach writing the letters.

“I actually like to split it up. I do one day where I’m reading the material for two to three students, and then I’m drafting bullet points of what I want to write,” Saiki said. “Then for the next day or that night, I’ll write it and upload and submit it the following day on Naviance.”

For his part, counselor Brian Safine interviews each student personally to get to know them better. He estimates he then spends 2 to 3 hours writing each student’s letter.

Counselor Monique Young sets a goal to finish at least two letters per day. She writes each student’s letter per sitting when all the information about the student is still fresh in her mind. 

Young likes to start with an introduction describing students, then follows with bullet-pointing students’ accomplishments, activities and the varieties of classes outside and in school. Lastly, she also throws in quotes from green sheet recommenders about the students. 

“I personally work better under pressure, uninterrupted. I can write eight letters in a day if I need to, so [the counselors are] all different,” Young said.  

The counselors’ process of writing letters of recommendation include: obtaining anecdotes and information about students, drafting the letter, completing and reviewing the forms and uploading them. 

The module on Canvas with all student forms will be sent out in fall 2023 for incoming seniors and allows counselors to stay organized and keep track of deadlines for students’ applications.  

“If you know you have an early deadline, you have to submit everything by that date, and then we will sort it based on what you told us is the first deadline and that’s how we break it up,” Young said.  

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