A Holistic Approach to College Admissions
This past fall, many colleges opted to go test optional. This left many admissions counselors (and students) wondering how they would evaluate the thousands of applications that they received.
With the student’s GPA many times being the only numerical data point submitted, we were told that admissions would use a “holistic approach” when reading the applications. Reviewers increasingly turned to the more subjective aspects of the application – the essays, activities, and recommendations – to get a fuller picture of the student’s character and achievements.
The Value of the LOR
It turns out that a well-written recommendation letter (also known as an LOR – letter of recommendation) was sometimes the difference between being accepted or rejected from a school.
Why? Well, consider this: the purpose of an LOR is to give admissions an objective viewpoint which, hopefully, supports the applicant’s candidacy. This makes a well-written LOR extremely valuable because it can provide:
- Additional insight into the student’s character, abilities, and interests – both in and out of the classroom.
- Examples of the student’s academic and personal achievements.
- Background information not otherwise noted in the application.
Admissions counselors tell us they review applications with the goal of identifying reasons to admit the student (I know it often doesn’t feel like this is the case, but it’s true). A well-written recommendation can give the reader the reasons they’re looking for.
On the other hand, a generic LOR not only doesn’t provide new information, it may work against a student. If the person writing a student’s recommendation can’t think of a reason why the student is a good fit for the school, the reader may think twice about admitting the applicant. Remember, chances are good they have plenty of others to choose from.
Following these steps can help ensure you get a great LOR:
- Build relationships with your teachers, coaches, managers, and guidance counselors.
- Choose your recommenders carefully. Think about who really knows you – who are the people who have seen you put forth your best effort, who have watched you grow, who know the obstacles you’ve overcome?
- Ask potential writers in May or June of your junior year – this gives them plenty of time to write a great letter.
- Create a brag sheet to give to the people who will write your LOR. (Check out my Resources page for instructions.)
And once you’ve received your LOR, don’t forget to send a thank you note.