The Skinny on College Recommendation Letters

I wrote this post a year ago when my son was asking for college recommendations. He’s in college now, but I thought parents and teenagers could benefit from what I wrote in 2009.

This is the time of year when high school counselors and teachers are flooded with requests to write college recommendation letters.

Writing a college recommendation letter is a thankless job and I’m glad that I’ll never have to compose one. But that doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook.  My role in the college recommendation process is to make sure that the teachers and high school counselors are appreciated.

This week, I’m going to buy gift cards from Starbucks or Barnes & Noble for my son Ben’s calculus teacher and his principal, who wrote his college recommendation letters.

Giving Teachers Gifts

Actually, it isn’t just the parents of high school seniors who should consider giving gift cards to teachers. This might sound duplicitous, but I have given gift cards in the past to teachers, whom I thought might end up writing a college letter of recommendation for my son or daughter.

Admittedly, high school students usually don’t give their teachers presents, but giving a gift card or a plate of cookies could make them feel even more warmly towards a student when it’s time to write college recommendations. I bought Barnes & Noble gift cards for Ben to give to his 11th-grade teachers with college recommendations in mind, but he forgot to bring them on the last day of school.

Buttering up your teenager’s high school counselor also couldn’t hurt. When my daughter was in high school, I always wrote a thank you to the head counselor after she put on a college night or college fair. When she requested that parents bring food to one of the events, I brought a plate of sushi from Costco.

Counselor Brown Nosing

I think engaging the high school counselor is important because typically they aren’t going to know a teenager nearly as well as the teachers. Counselors, however, wield a lot of power when they write recommendations and complete the secondary school report for seniors. In this report, which is sent to colleges, the counselor includes a profile of the high school and compares your child’s performance and academic workload with others students in the senior class.

Like I said, that’s a lot of responsibility for someone who might not know your child very well. In a sea of students, I’d suggest that counselors are more likely to remember a student if he or she or the parent writes a thank-you note.

Will saying thank you help? I will never know for sure, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

Further Reading:

Acceptance Letter Etiquette

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  1. It is just a recommendation. Those teachers should be happy to write one for a student and be flattered that they were asked. It is selfish to only think of the teachers being appreciated, trust me the student is very THANKFUL. Kids are being overpriced for colleges nowadays and it is completely stressful as a youngster these days.

  2. I meant ass kissing, it was an innocent typo. The application process was not the issue so much as the high cost/ low quality ratio that exists. College is overrated, and nobody can argue, it is over priced. A national college cut class day is a benign but powerful method of protesting this.

  3. I find it refreshing that you do not try to sugar coat the fact that this could be seen as buttering/sucking up. What seems sad is that a thank you note (or small gift) is not the norm, but the exception. YOu are 100% correct in that writing a recommendation is not part of a teacher’s job and they should absolutely be thanked in some way. In my D’s school, the teachers and counselors are overworked and underpaid as well as underappreciated.
    (Did cutclass have a really bad experience in applying to college, as suggested by the slip of ass-kicking instead of ass-kissing?)

  4. Your article is a devastating reminder of the reality of school. That reality is: school is not about learning. It is about politics, power trips, and ass kicking. The fact that your child forgot to bring your present reflects a couple of things in my opinion. 1.) They did not want to bring the gifts 2.) They don’t care 3.) A person must make their own path; no matter how hard you beg, plead, intrude, or attempt to control them, a person must do things their way. If they do not follow their own will, they will not have a will or any sense of self or confidence whatsoever. They will be confused, needy, weak individuals unable to make any kind of decision on their own. Hence, your brown nosing does not help; quite the opposite, and on many levels. Does you “child” (adult, more accurately), even want to go to college? It is a necessary question that they need to be presented with and answer on their own without any outside manipulation. The cost in time and many is way too high to not ask that question. In fact, is organizing a national cut class day in protest of college tuitions, which are too damn high and tantamount to extortion. Do not let your young adult get ground by the gears of the system and spit out the other side broke and brain dead.