Teacher Recommendation Letters

I have a junior high schooler right now that essentially has been in remote learning since last March (in California). How are college admissions looking at situations like this for students in California, Chicago and New York public schools, etc where kids just haven’t been in the classroom and where remote learning doesn’t allow the student to develop enough of a comfort level to ask for a rec (and many time it’s asynchronous learning with virtual academy teachers)? Same goes for the college counselor (particularly for large public high schools?) I am very discouraged at how the adcom committees are able to evaluate someone- and particularly when even ACT/SAT scores could help provide a difference but are test blind for UCs. My son has a 35 ACT which is useless for UCs and will have abysmal recs because he has no relationships with any teachers this year. I guess this is more of a vent, but thanks for hearing me out!

I hear you. Were there any teachers with whom your son had a good relationship, and high achievement, in tenth grade? After all, they had about 2/3 of the school year before shut down in mid-March.

Probably, school will be in-person again before the end of the school year. And very likely to be in-person beginning in September.

In every setting, even on-line as it is now, it is possible to distinguish oneself. Speak up in zoom class, if possible. Communicate with the teacher outside of zoom class time, via email, if there are any questions. When back in school later this spring, or in the early fall, make an effort to be well-prepared for class, to sit in the front row, to speak up and contribute intelligently to class discussions, and meet with the teacher before or after school, or during a free period, if possible, for questions and discussions.

But yeah, you are absolutely right. Pity the high-achieving California kids, in the test-blind, no in-person school, and no live in-person competitions or conferences. The ONLY way for them to distinguish themselves is through high grades and seeking out online, virtual settings for competitions and clubs to differentiate themselves from the other scores of thousands applying. And they are in competition with kids from all across the country, some of whom had at least hybrid school, with some in-person learning, with the chance to make an impression on teachers so that they could get good letters.

Thanks for your response! I am going to try and encourage him to be more assertive. He has maybe 1 teacher from sophomore year that could be a potential rec. He was a swimmer too and good (CIF level) and that has gone all down the drain (no pun intended :))

Just because students are not in school, don’t assume that they are not being seen by anyone.

Every public school in the country is suppose to have a comprehensive counseling plan that meets the ASCA guidelines. This includes having a licensed school counselor (nor social worker, not grade advisor or college counselor who is not a licensed school counselor) meet minimally once a year to do an individual progress report for every student in the school starting at 6th grade. I have colleagues that have redesigned their whole counseling departments with some counselors who are dedicated the the IPR/Post secondary tracker activities full time (the mandated counseling caseload are being given to licensed social worker or some schools have increased their counseling staff.

The UFT has petitioned the city to use its stimulus money to hiring 10,000 School counselor and social workers for school year 2021-2022 to take care of SEL, college and post secondary process and the academic deficits which may have come about for students being home for the past 1.5 years (come September. 2021). This is great because there has essentially been a hiring freeze of school counselors since 2008 (exception new schools could hire school counselors from the outside within their first 4 years).

The IPR is a comprehensive document that speaks to academic, social emotional, college and post secondary goals. At the NYC DOE is documented in their stars system and year over year you can school counselors can see what has been written about the child.

In the upper grades document includes listing of college career post secondary activities, creating a strong college match list,Filing the fafsa and financial aid, etc. I know at my high school there are multiple meetings held during the junior and senior year and every students are seen multiple times by the school counselors.

UCs (and CSUs) do not require recommendations (and generally do not use them either).

As my son heads into finals, I am pretty sure his AP Chem teacher will provide a letter; however, I have another question regarding recs. What is your opinion of a swim coach giving a letter of recommendation? His coach has known him 3 years and can probably give him a nice letter on all the qualitative things about my son. To me it’s not different than asking his Spanish teacher for a rec as someone not intending to major in Spanish? Or his guidance counselor who prob is arguably a terrible MIA counselor who really knows nothing about my son except for some multiple page questionnaire that parents fill out about their kid at the beginning of the year. Would this be a bad strategy particularly this year where there were no real meaningful interactions with his instructors?

It depends on the college. Some schools are very specific about what they want and won’t consider a LOR from a non academic teacher or GC. Other schools are more flexible. In general though, don’t send more than is asked for by the college.

1 Like

It’s totally different. A swim coach us fine if the college accepts supplemental recs - and not all do. But for those that want a teacher rec, they want a teacher rec, not a coach rec.


Thanks everyone for the feedback!

My son submitted two academic recommendations, and two music recommendations, even to the school that did not have a performance music major for him. But your son has to have two academic recommendations. Swim coach can be an additional one, if you feel it is relevant.

All my kids had the same lazy, ditzy, obstructionist guidance counselor. But I knew how important the cover letter from guidance was, and I wanted to make sure that the GC put certain things in there, so that my son didn’t have to. So I called her, and listened to what she thought was important, and then steered her towards what I thought also belonged in there. I think it worked.

1 Like