Be Careful Who You Wish For

Be Careful Who You Wish For

High school juniors must carefully weigh their choice of teachers for written recommendations. You often are allowed two, and most inexperienced juniors go for the “warm and fuzzy”–the teacher who seemed to like you. This is a mistake. Colleges do not want to read about how pleasant you were in Biology class. Think more like a job-seeking professional. The business executive doesn’t ask her mom to write a job recommendation. She picks the person who challenged her to do the very best job and could relate actual work decisions that resulted in a successfully completed project. The best recommendations are a result of a collaborative effort between the student and recommending teacher. The student should proactively share with the teacher the vision of what needs to be conveyed to the college, with the teacher merging this information into a compelling and personalized statement. Don’t settle for sweet; talk to the teachers who really pushed you, applauded your out-of-the-box solution to a difficult problem or genuinely appreciated a semester-long dialogue that kept a classroom on its toes rather than allow it to stare at the clock with 10 minutes left to go. A longtime Yale University dean said, “We look to see whether teachers incline toward calling each bright student ‘one of the best I have ever taught,’ or instead try to distinguish the really extraordinary individual from those who are strong in the usual ways.”

You want to stand out before your college acceptance committee. Warm or fuzzy is for kittens; colleges want to hear from tigers who will rule the jungle.

-Mike Ryan

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