Recommendation Letters and Beyond: College Admissions Officers Share Tips for Supporting Students through the Admissions Process

Postsecondary Readiness

While many things are different this year, November and December still represent college application season. Many students are preparing to submit their applications in advance of winter deadlines. Across the network, RISE educators are collaborating and sharing their expertise to ensure prospective college students at RISE high schools have the best opportunity to earn acceptance into their college of choice.

During a recent webinar, RISE invited several college admissions administrators: Nakia Létang of the Fairfield University, Sebastian Ivory of Wesleyan University, Milly Muniz of Connecticut College, and Alick Letang of Southern Connecticut State University, to discuss recommendations for how educators and school counselors can best assist students with their college applications. While the webinar focused on letters of recommendation, the panel also provided insight into other aspects of the admissions process and how colleges are doing things differently during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Based on the recommendations of the admissions administrators, here are some key takeaways to remember when supporting students through the application process: 

Recommendation Letters Should Focus on Substance over Style

Remember to keep it short and to the point. There’s no need to reiterate things that will be listed in the application. Place more focus on the student and their impact on the school as a whole. Be mindful to paint a picture of who the student is as a person and spend less time focusing on a summary of their activities and involvement. When writing, there’s no one right way to write a recommendation. Play to your strengths when choosing to draft the letter in paragraphs or bullet pointed information to best highlight the skills and accomplishments of the student, and always proof-read anything sent out to college admissions offices.

Most importantly, admissions administrators said they appreciated letters that were transparent, frank, and honest and that gave context to understand a student’s successes and growth over time.

“It is essential for us,” said Milly Muniz. “The counselors have a lot of information that the students sometimes are not effective in explaining in an application — or are hesitant to explain. It is important to add that context to paint the full picture.”

Advise Students on Virtual Options

Students should understand it is good to show potential universities and colleges that they are interested. During this COVID-19 era, more higher education institutions  are offering prospective applicants opportunities to interact virtually with professors and campus life. High school students should feel encouraged to participate in virtual tours, information sessions, and other interactive resources. However, students should always remember to be genuine, authentic, and attentive during these virtual opportunities. 

“Be genuine about that interest at the end of the day,” said Sebastian Ivory. “Be authentic with the interest. I don’t mind students asking questions…but don’t do it solely looking for points.”

Tell Your Students “Don’t Stress!”

This year, colleges and universities are redefining what a successful student looks like and redetermining how to evaluate applications. In some ways, this is leveling the playing field with many colleges and universities no longer requiring test scores — and if the submission process for a school says test scores are optional, they truly are optional. The bottom line is admissions offices are more concerned with which classes and subjects a student is taking and how that student has done in four years of high school. The true core of every application is the transcript.

“That’s the bottom line,” said Nakia Létang. “If you haven’t sent your (test) scores, that’s okay. It’s not changing how I look at your application. Regardless of where they’re coming from, you don’t have to stress about it. Again, you’re going to be okay.”

As RISE educators and counselors continue working closely with their students graduating in 2021 and beyond, the RISE College & Career Readiness team will continue to share resources and provide support to make sure all students are on a path to achieving their postsecondary goals.

Want more tips? You can watch the full webinar here.