More light needs to be shined in recommendation process

November 4, 2009 — by Staff editorial: Anoop Galivanche, Saniha Shankar, Uttara Sivaram, Abhi Venkataramana and Jason Wu

Applying to colleges and anxiously waiting for a reply at one’s mailbox is hard enough without being blindfolded. The content of recommendation letters has been kept under lock and key—so much so that they have become a thing of mystery and anxiety to seniors.

The current system is understandable—if not to students at least to teachers. It prevents kids (or their parents) from taking up arms to go to their teacher’s house, knocking on their front door and demanding a recommendation letter more complimentary to their college repertoire.

But for students, asking for a recommendation letter leads to the possibility of placing their college prospects in the hands of an ostensibly generous teacher. The current recommendation system is essentially a gamble for the college hopeful. And some teachers, unfortunately, are hard to read.

However, there is a solution that would be beneficial to students and expedite the writing process for teachers. At the end of junior year, students could select three teachers to meet with. During these brief meetings, they could candidly discuss their college applications, and students could gain some clarity as to where they stand for a letter.

Clearly, students also have to realize that teachers are not obliged to write recommendation letters at all—much less glowingly positive ones. For the teachers who do graciously write them, students should step on eggshells to make sure that teachers are not brow-beaten in the process.

If the school were to make time for these face-to-face meetings, perhaps the blindfold would be loosened in the process—at least allowing students a glimpse of what admissions officers will be seeing. It is understood that these conversations will lengthen the already tedious process. But having had at least one recent in-depth conversation with a student, teachers might find the letters easier to write-—a benefit that might make the time spent talking worthwhile.

Of course, changing the current system primarily helps students who fail to establish enough rapport with their teachers. For many students, these conferences may be unnecessary.

However, those who do not have favorite teachers across the board of academic subjects may be hesitant to ask a teacher they are less familiar with for a letter. The prospective math Ph.D. may tap their toes outside an English classroom, wondering where to start and what to say. At the same time, students should choose carefully when it comes time to ask their teachers to write on their behalf. It is a poor use of common sense when a student who usually falls asleep in a certain class asks that teacher a letter. They should expect nothing more than lukewarm praise at best.

Encouraging these conferences between students and teachers will mean a complete overhaul of the current process. Students, teachers and the administration would have to tweak their schedules to make time for these conferences—maybe even setting aside a whole school day or two for them. To students, however, this will result in a less mysterious, fear-ridden college application process.

By applying to college, a student is essentially putting all their chips on the table. Let them at least see the cards in their hand.

8 views this week