Ever since I wrote last year’s blog post on “How to Pick Your Recommenders?”, we have wrapped up one whole admission season. We are now ready to embark on the upcoming one: The College Admission Season 2021-2022 is about to commence! This means it’s time for juniors to be in the spotlight and take front row seat in my counseling services. Those of you who have had a chance to attend school in person during the 2020-2021 academic year can stop reading after this point and read my blog post from 2019 instead. For those of you who have completed an entire year of high school virtually, asking for recommendation letters will look different this year. You may not have formed close relationships with any of your teachers or your high school counselor from afar. It is very hard for your teachers and counselors to get to know you in depth when they can’t see you in person. Especially in a year when letters of recommendation take high priority in terms of evaluating each student’s application in lieu of standardized test scores and GPAs in some instances, here are some quick tips on how to pick your recommenders despite all the challenges:
- Be flexible in your list of possible recommenders: In any normal – AKA pre-COVID – year, it would be advisable to ask two of your junior year teachers for recommendation letters. In a post-COVID year, where you might have barely (if at all) seen your teachers in person, chances are your junior teachers might not have a lot to say about you in detail. If you can spot one or two teachers who can attest to your academic and personal skills, then you are lucky! Stick to those teachers as your recommenders. However, if you feel that you can’t even email any of your junior year teachers to ask for a recommendation, there’s your red flag. Don’t do it! Instead, try to think of two teachers who got to know you very closely during sophomore year. At least, you completed more than half of sophomore year in person, right?
- Consider senior year teachers only if you had them in previous years: Your senior year teachers will have known you only for a limited amount of time by the time they submit their recommendation letters, so they will not have insightful information or meaningful anecdotes to write about you. However, if you had the same teacher in a previous grade, then you can definitely consider asking them to write a letter on your behalf as your senior year teacher. In that case, they will probably have enough to dwell on based on their past engagement with you.
- Look beyond the grades: Obviously, you would want to ask a teacher whose class you aced for that letter of recommendation, and rightfully so! However, there is more to a well-written recommendation letter. It has to talk about a specific incident where you demonstrated good and exemplary character. While picking your recommenders, make sure to pick a teacher who can attest to both!
- Always remember that colleges will be more understanding of your circumstances than ever before: The Class of 2022 will be the first-ever class to have completed one full year of high school virtually. Colleges will know and acknowledge this fact, and they will adjust their admission evaluation techniques and policies accordingly. Do the best you can; control what you can, but don’t freak out over the things you can’t control. We’re still in a pandemic. This isn’t your fault. As long as you study hard and display good work ethics, you won’t be penalized for having gone through junior year remotely.
Here at EdMission Possible, we believe that recommendation letters are usually seen as a confirmation of an applicant’s qualifications which will help close the deal. Therefore, it is very important that you know whom to ask and how to ask for such letters because a good recommendation letter could contribute to a desirable admission outcome, whereas a poorly-written one might jeopardize it.
Good luck with your hunt for recommendations!
Burcak Deniz Cakir
Independent Educational Consultant, Founder, and President | EdMission Possible
Burcak Deniz Cakir has a B.A. in Foreign Language Education, an M.A. in English Language Teaching, and an M.B.A., all of which have laid the solid foundation for her professional experiences as an educator. She has completed the College Counseling Program at UCLA, which is known to be the most prestigious certificate program in the profession. She has previously taught English as a Foreign/Second Language (EFL/ESL) in Turkey and in the U.S. at Virginia Tech, Harcum College, Rutgers University (Newark and New Brunswick Campuses), and Pace University. Having taught EFL/ESL at the college level for over 20 years, Burcak can communicate effectively with college-age students from different countries. She is bilingual in Turkish and English. Her extensive experience with international students from many countries including but not limited to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Korea, and China has given her the opportunity to understand their unique problems that domestic students may not be facing throughout the college admissions process, such as but not limited to extra testing requirements (TOEFL, IELTS), the translation of high school transcripts and recommendation letters, different financial forms and statements required, visa issues, being homesick, culture shock, etc.
Burcak is an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and a Voting Member of the International Association for College Admission Counseling (IACAC). She currently lives in Edison, New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and her four-legged son. In her free time, she can be found spending time with her family, reading (lots!) about college admissions and college essays, watching her favorite movies, getting lost in design magazines, and decorating her house.