SAO recommendations

So daughter has her SAO application done.
The “any teacher” recommendation and the “personal recommendation” as well as the “math teacher” and “English teacher” and “principal recommendation” are all nice and uploaded.

Except – I just realized as I was clicking on one of her schools that they didn’t require the any teacher or the personal recommendation, so it is not showing up highlighted in yellow for that school.

And so I went through and checked the 13 schools on my daughter’s list.

12 do NOT have either of those recommendations listed!

(So basically we called in this major favor of two of her teachers for 1 school???!!)

We would very much like to include these recommendations in our daughter’s file. (Of course, we will go school by school to determine if that will be welcomed.)

Does anyone happen to know from being in similar position:
From the recommender’s perspective, how hard would it be to email that SAO recommendation? I mean do we know if it’s a pdf? or is there enough text just to copy and paste it into a word doc? Or is it more of a check-the-box and short answer thing? Just wondering if anyone has insight here before we start asking for even more favors from teachers who are already overworked, stressed about online classes, etc. I hate to announce to them: oh by the way, your recommendation basically went to no one.

Our HOS told us she was very disappointed in the recommendation form because it was compromised of several rank questions (on a scale of 1-5, rate the student on x,y, and z, etc) and had a small box for about 2-3 sentences.

It probably is very easy to reproduce in one form or fashion, not sure what the payoff would be to have that recommendation reproduced for schools not requiring it, but I don’t think it would be too labor intensive.
Also, most schools are used to receiving recommendation letters after the deadline, so you may be able to request this when your DD returns to school if you aren’t wanting to ask for it over the holiday break.

@buuzn03 Our HOS was so surprised by the brevity that she actually wrote the SSAT folks because she thought surely something was missing! (It turns out she was just remembering the nice, juicy recommendations from gateway last year I think.). So I do think that the recs are pretty short on SAO. I wonder just how short the teacher recs are though?
I know we can see the blank gateway rec forms but I have not found a way to see a blank SAO form.

Also, to confirm for any confusion for others – I am not talking about sending extra recs to schools beyond what they say they want. But many schools do welcome the recommendations according to their admissions website language (and some actually encourage or require an extra teacher rec given TO policies this year.). So when I saw the “any teacher” rec this year in SAO (which I don’t recall being there last year), we just happily jumped on the bandwagon and sent the link out without really checking who will actually get this. Turns out: almost no one. Same with personal rec. ARGH. What a waste.

BTW – same story for the “graded essay” link on SAO. turns out only 1 of 13 schools on DD3 list is asking for that SAO link (although several schools are asking for an essay – so I’m wondering why they wouldn’t have that link attached to their school? I’m guessing we will be told to email that directly? Strange.)

If you are saying that the schools’ websites say something contradictory to what the SAO app actually does, can you use that as an excuse to call the school and ask for clarification? And oh, by the way, we did get the rec done, so if you do want it, it would be no trouble a’tall to get it to you.

I trust you, of anyone, can make that contact with grace and charm.

Who knows, maybe this is a glitch some schools don’t know about and would appreciate a heads up?

Yes. Mostly.

For example, XYZ school says on their application page that we need a math, English and another teacher recommendation.

So on SAO, there is a link for “math teacher” and “English teacher” and “any teacher.”

Daughter got a teacher recommendation for all three, and now all three are complete in SAO, and we are done bothering our generous recommenders.

But when I click on XYZ School in SAO, the “any teacher” recommendation disappears. Which would indicate that they will NOT receive that recommendation which usually means it is not required.

So in this school’s case, that is extra confusing because I can see on their website that it IS required, but that they aren’t scheduled to receive that file.

In other school’s cases, they may not have that as a requirement, but it is welcomed and it turns out that unless it is a hard requirement, the school has NO way to get that recommendation from SAO.

So, what that means is: we have two recommendations that are not readable by 12 schools, some of which require one or both of them, all of which we would like to received them.

I just got off the phone with a school who does NOT require the extra recommendation, but will happily take it. But now, here we are at Christmas time – we can’t very well ask the teachers to go back and pull the recommendations and make a pdf and send them all via email to 12 schools (all in separate emails please so that schools don’t see where kid is applying).

I guess I’m just taken aback. If there are recommendations that are showing up in SAO, it would be nice to think that a good portion of schools are actually accepting those links. It feels crappy that we called in favors for recommendations that are going nowhere. I should have clicked through each and every school I suppose before daughter launched recommendation requests, but we didn’t have a finalized school list until a few weeks ago. And why would a school’s requirements not line up with the language on SAO? it just seems crappy that people will jump through hoops to get these newly-added recommendations (I confirmed that they weren’t there in last year’s interface – DD2 application from last year is still in her account) only to find out that VERY FEW schools are using these. And in fact, even the schools that DO want the recommendation, are going to ask for us to send it in a different way.

With test optional here, I really think the extra recommendations add a nice dimension. ARGH.

UGH I’m just annoyed, TBH. And my annoyance is with SAO, not the schools. I think SAO created these new categories without fully communicating them to the schools, if I had to guess.

As a general comment, most of the usual signals this year are broken. Teacher recommendations & report cards from teachers that have never met your child and who are likely overwhelmed right now. Tests optional. Extracurriculars which have been canceled for nearly a year.

My conclusion is, with fewer signals in each application, admissions will make more “judgement calls” than normal, probably leaning on their individual biases.

@Calliemomofgirls I did not realize that there was a discrepancy between what the school’s site said they needed and what SAO said they needed in regards to recommendations. So far, I have not seen this with DDs applications. But I also have not checked the individual schools’ portal checklist against SAO - DD has been doing that. She’s pretty meticulous (and anxious), so I would have expected her to come running in frantically had she noticed. She’s supposed to finish up supplementals today, so we will make it a point to check together. I’d hate to think we were done and then get a call in mid-January. :flushed:
In any regard, it seems SAO needs to communicate better with the schools about what will and will not be sent.

@buuzn03 I will be going through the websites today to get my arms around the number of schools who require beyond math and English recommendations. So far, I just found one by randomly picking a school on our list (it is not on your DD list). (Also, there may be some that require a third rec only if choosing TO, which we are.). I have emailed that one school to inquire about the required rec and the SAO field that doesn’t seem to be attached to their application in the portal. I’ll let you know the result. Although, I am about 99% sure it will have to be: “oh just email it to us” because there is no way for them to access that rec through SAO, unless I am getting this wrong. (Always a possibility, right? #humans)

But the bigger issue is that when you don’t have a finalized school list (and maybe even once you do), I think most people will just fill up all the recommendations listed along the right side of the SAO application, assuming that those recommendations will prove useful.

I suppose one could argue that it is totally our fault for not clicking into all the schools (on the left side of dashboard) and seeing which fields disappeared and then using THAT as our guideline before asking for recommendations. While I of course realized that some schools wouldn’t ask for the “any teacher” and “personal” recs, I guess I didn’t realize that almost NO schools would be using that field (even if they requested a third rec) on SAO, and that those who had those as suggested or optional would NOT be able to access the recommendation through SAO. (FWIW – we did NOT have the issue of “useless recommendations” last year when we did Gateway.)

Bottom line: we could have asked for those recommendations to be straight letters from the beginning, to be emailed out to the schools, skipping those two SAO fields since they are going almost nowhere. (This is what we did last year for DD2, because those two fields did not exist on SAO.). Sure, these recommendations are “optional” for most schools, but DD created a holistic application, counting on roughly what each recommender was going to bring to the narrative. (meaning: no need to talk too much about XZY because Mrs. Smith is going be talking about that in the rec.) Not the end of the world. She wouldn’t be “penalized” for not having the optional recommendations, but it won’t be her best presentation of self either. And, it is wasted work of our generous teachers, and I hate that. I just think it’s crappy practice by SAO to present fields that require a fair amount of work right there in the dashboard all shiny and pretty, if they know that a very low percentage of schools are actually signed up to accept that field. I think a LOT of families are not realizing that some (12 out of 13 in our case) or maybe all of their schools are not getting the recommendations that they think are headed that way. They will never realize it because they won’t be penalized because they are optional, or “suggested.”

Again, my error – I am the one who overlooked this issue, but I guess I’m saying: hey if it can happen to me, lady who has lived in boarding school applications for the past couple of years, well then I’m pretty sure it’s happening to others. Or, I might be be the only schmuck on this bus, and I’m OK with that too.

I don’t think you’re the only schmuck on the bus because I didn’t even realize this would be a possibility. You just happen to be the smart schmuck who does their due diligence to make sure everything is verified.
Your discovery made us go back and compare portal checklists to the SAO. One school does not have DDs transcripts as being received per their portal. Yet, all of the others do and SAO shows them to be completed. This is concerning.
Again, I’d rather know this now than get a call in mid-January after we had breathed our sigh of relief that we were done.
I agree that asking for the recommendation based on the overall menu of what’s needed versus the school specific one could create more work for more people because we only have one school who needs an “other” teacher recommendation (it has to be either science or foreign language). But that recommendation shows on the summary side menu, which would make it appear that all schools needed it.
Three of our schools don’t use their own portal (or they have not sent us a link to create our account on one) and it makes me wonder how we even know they’ve received all they need.
In any regard…I now need a cup of egg nog or similar.

In the interest of giving some context and scope to the problem, I’m sharing my findings from the original list of 13 schools my daughter considered. I looked on all the school admissions websites at who required additional recommendations, outside of math and English. (Yes, I even did the schools where she isn’t applying because that’s just my commitment to excellence.) (kidding there in case you don’t know me)

Of 13 schools:

6 school sites specifically mention that the additional recommendations are optional or welcomed. 0 of 6 are connected to the additional recommendation fields in SAO. (to be expected perhaps, even if that’s lousy SAO systems design).

5 schools require at least one additional recommendation beyond math and English. 2 of these school requirements are only for students not submitting SSAT scores. 2 of 5 ARE appropriately connected to the corresponding field in SAO; those 2 being “required for all applicants” schools. (So in our case, we would need to submit via email these extra recommendations to 3 schools, even though the recommendations are already populated in SAO.).
(NOTE: only 1 school that required an additional recommendation for all applicants was not connected to the link in SAO. Which means if you are submitting SSAT, you probably aren’t affected by this issue.)

2 schools do not mention anything about additional recommendations on their website, and from where I sit, that means they don’t want them. So totally logical that they are not connected to SAO field.


From what I can tell – Schools cannot access any fields that are “optional” or (more importantly) “required for a subset population” in SAO.

Furthermore, there is no mechanism to indicate that to families, who might trust the similar language on an admissions website (“extra teacher recommendation”) and SAO (“any teacher recommendation”) to mean that they have submitted those additional recommendations to schools for whom those recommendations are either required (likely due to being test-optional) or optional.

This seems to affect test optional students significantly more than those who are submitting SSATs because these extra recommendations are required for TO candidates, while only “optional” for SSAT-test-takers.

In conclusion: when is it March 10?

Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.

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First, grrr to you for messing up my peaceful vibe today.

Second, a huge thank you. D is applying TO, so this will be a big issue for us. REALLY happy to know now and not realize in February.

Does anyone know what the “additional teacher “ or “activity” recommender form looks like? Is it kind of fill in the blank like math and English or wide open? We are using SAO. I need to flag this Monday morning for those recommenders and I want to be as helpful as possible. I don’t know if they have actually started yet.

Also just FYI the “missing for no reason” issue happens with college apps too. D21 had a couple things show up “not received” in portals that I know should have been. I was able to call even after deadlines and get it worked out. One place still took her ED even though a couple docs were technically several days late into a very short review period. I think in general you are cut more slack for things that are not really under your direct control, like recs and transcripts.

I definitely wanted to share since I know others share some school crossover and are also TO.
Here is what I will also say: make sure you check your schools. I know we have a lot of crossover, but of course, check your schools in SAO to draw your own conclusions.
Also – there is a pretty long buffer zone after deadline to manage these little bits and pieces. So, just to give some context as you consider sending new recommender info over the teacher’s vacation. (The exception of course being: if they haven’t started the recommendation at all, then perhaps this would be helpful just to get ahead of it if you decide to go the full letter route.).
Note that the SAO recommendations, from what I hear, are notoriously short, and thus probably pretty quick and easy to fill out. Meaning you might also want to balance out the impact of reaching out to a teacher in December who has seen the form, and has mentally planned for a half hour to fill it out over break, and then they suddenly gets a panicked email from a kid saying STOP the horses and write a full letter instead! (not that you would do this. I’m being internet-dramatic, as my good friend @DroidsLookingFor might say.)
If they have already started or planned to do it as the form, the better option might be to ask them to make a pdf of the recommendation and email it directly to the schools in question. (a quick reminder – in separate emails or in blind copy – make sure you mention that to recommender – sigh about the what-if of all our kids’ schools AO’s being on one big happy email chain!).

What does it take to put that SAO recommendation into a pdf? I don’t know. But I have a feeling it is possible because I can’t imagine there haven’t been instances when a rec needed to get downloaded into pdf form by a recommender.

We are personally not going to reach out the teachers over break I don’t think since the recs are all done and loaded at this point. January 4th is plenty early for my daughter to reach out to her two teachers to see if they can do a pdf and email it to a list of email addresses. I feel confident that we can absolutely follow that timeline and be great. (We are WAY ahead of where we were last year at this time and all went great. Last year at this time my DD was still taking SSATs and hadn’t started writing her essays. don’t recommend that though.)

Anyway – hope that’s helpful. DM me if you have specific questions on our common schools.

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Is it bad that I am just going to sit back and wait for the schools who didn’t get the optional stuff to specifically reach out for it?

We did not go TO - DD submitted her scores. But, on the off-chance that the school will require the “optional” OR what if they didn’t get her scores because THOSE were optional?

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is - we have all but one application in and we are done. SO done. There is not one ounce of motivation in me to track these potentially cyberlost items down…

I think your approach is totally reasonable. If I am correct in remembering your DD school list, I don’t think this issue impacts you at all given SSAT submission.

As for us, we really do want the “optional” recommendations to be included (and I would not expect to get any notification from schools about a missing optional item), so we have a bit of a project that awaits us January 4. And we do have a few schools who require those rec forms since DD not submitting SSAT so we’ll just get them sent everywhere.

In the 11th hour, it was good to know that SAO has some glitches with things like recommendations so that we can follow up before the 15th. There is definitely a level of disconnect between SAO and individual school portals. In some ways tech makes it easier, but also more complicated.

We have run into two situations where what the school had determined was “optional” ended up not being optional. One was an item that was to be sent by all applicants who decided not to include SSAT scores - the school decided last week that they wanted ALL applicants, even those who submitted the SSAT to include.
Needless to say, it threw DD for a loop and she went into scramble/angst mode because she had thought she was already done.
NOW, it appears she is done. The emails directly from schools confirming her application is complete are starting to trickle in. YAY! :tada:

oh the fun of the few days leading up to J15!!!