October 15, 2018
Dear LoMA Family,
It is getting to be time for our seniors to start asking their teachers for letters of recommendation. The recommendation, in conjunction with the personal essay, allows colleges to get to know the who you really are – your background, skills, personality and potential. When I write them, I focus on three or four areas to show our students in the best light: academic achievement, extracurricular and artistic accomplishments, and personal successes. Sometimes these letters are tough to write, but other times they almost write themselves with all of the wonderful accomplishments of our students. Unfortunately, by the time our students become seniors, the letter is or is not already written. As is true with your GPA, what you do in your early years at LoMA determines what you can or cannot do after high school.
I only write recommendations for students who were in my global studies class so that I can write intelligently about their academic accomplishments. While I can generally see their grades and Regents results, I am too old to remember specific examples two years after my students took the class. Therefore, I expect students to be able to discuss what they learned in my class with copies of exemplary essays and projects they completed. Like all good writing, a recommendation needs to show the strengths of the student. To get a strong academic recommendation, students need to have plenty of specific examples of academic accomplishment, especially if their grades don’t represent their full potential.
Fortunately, LoMA’s extracurricular credit requirement makes the next section of a recommendation particularly strong for our students. One of the reasons for this requirement is that colleges like students who are active in their communities. Participation in after school activities demonstrates that a student is motivated for success, can work collaboratively, and cares about something besides herself. The more intense the activity, the more valuable it is. That is why intense activities that occur several times a week like LoMATE, sports teams, and Edgies are so valuable for college and in building character. Activities in the arts are especially positive as they showcase your creativity and talent. Colleges also rate community service activities like Student Council and LoMA Cares very highly. I am also impressed by how many of our students are active in local community organizations and churches. These all make for a strong recommendation.
Finally, an important part of any letter is the personal section where I write about a student’s family, childhood experiences, or other influences. Often this can take the narrative of overcoming hardships. Some of our students have had to work especially hard because of difficulties at home, challenges in overcoming a disability, learning English, or the need to support others. Overcoming these challenges may explain a semester or two of low grades and show resiliency and strength that makes the student stand out.
Ultimately, that is the goal of the recommendation and of the personal essay. All of LoMA’s staff and I are proud to write recommendations that show off the best in our students, but when you are a senior and sit down to discuss it with us, we have to have sufficient material to work with. That’s why it is never too early to show how you do stand out as a strong, thoughtful student; active community member; and multifaceted individual.