The Counsellor Letter of Recommendation: how to get the recommendation you need
26th June 2017
The goal of this type of recommendation
The Counselor’s Letter of Recommendation should describe the student ‘in the round’, featuring evidence of things the student has done both inside and outside of the classroom.
The counselor recommendation has a unique, important role in the application process, and is supposed to tell the university what’s not shown by the transcript, personal essay, supplemental essays and Teacher LORs.
Most universities require applicants to provide at least one letter of recommendation from the student’s counselor, and in addition one to three letters of recommendation from different subject teachers.
Students are not supposed to read the letters that their recommenders write for them. In fact, students are encouraged to sign a waiver in which they relinquish access to the letters of recommendation.
Here’s some more detail: the FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) gives students the right to view all their educational records (including the letters of recommendation) if the student is 18 or older, or if the student’s university releases the recommendation later on. When a student applies to college, they are asked to waive this right in order to maintain confidentiality between the institution they are applying to and the recommender. Students are asked to sign their name electronically when filling in the Common Application (specifically when the student sends invitations to recommenders) or when applying to any specific university.
The goal in maintaining confidentiality in this process is to allow the recommenders to write honest letters that are true testimonies to the student’s performance and character.
If the student decides to refuse to sign the waiver, the institution the student is applying to and the recommenders are notified. The Common Application states that some recommenders might refuse to write the recommendation, and that some universities might refuse to read the recommendations.
Teacher’s role vs. Counselor’s role
Focusses on an academic subject
Highlights specific accomplishments inside the classroom or related to subject area
Compares the student to classroom peers
Describes student in the classroom setting
Recommender is chosen by the student
Overarching description of the student
Highlights major accomplishments that sets student apart from others
Describes student as an individual and more than just a learner
Describes student impact on community
Shares future student goals
Recommender is not chosen by the student
While the teacher’s LOR will focus on a student’s growth in a specific academic subject area (narrow focus), the counselor’s LOR will focus on the student’s growth as a whole (overarching focus).
The student’s activities, challenges, and achievements outside of the classroom are crucial factors in painting a broad picture of the student for the university. The Counselor’s letter should tell a university why this student is different from the rest.
The counselor’s perspective is supposed to differ from the teacher’s perspective in that the counselor has got to know the student outside of the classroom, and they are also supposed to have picked up on the student’s reputation from multiple teachers and other school staff.
Example Teacher LOR:
“Emily is a perceptive, sharp, quick individual with a high aptitude for math and science. She is driven to understand how things work, whether they be the old computer hard drives in the school library or the forces that hold our universe together. Her final project in class was especially impressive, an investigation of frequency-dependent sound absorption, an idea that she said was sparked by not wanting to bother her parents with her hours of guitar practice at home.”
Example Counselor LOR:
“Imogen speaks with maturity and sophistication about world events and talks about her desire to promote multicultural understanding and peace among all. From the events, including hosting powerful speakers and movie nights, she's organized through Arabic Club to her active participation in her classes, Laila has already contributed a great deal to the school in pursuit of these goals.”
What to include in the Counselor LOR
As general guidance, the counselor LOR could answer the following questions:
What qualities/skills set this student apart from other applicants?
How has the student impacted the local/school community?
What motivates the student?
How has the student grown as an individual through personal endeavours?
What are the student’s future goals and how do they link to current interests?
What not to include
The Counselor LOR should not restate information that can be found elsewhere in the student’s application, such as quantitative data like test scores or a list of activities and awards.
In addition - and this goes for Teacher as well as Counselor LORs - each one should be unique to a specific student, and not reusable for any student.
The student’s role in the process
The student must provide the counselor with the necessary information to write the LOR. It is important that the student and the counselor have established a relationship well before the admissions process. The counselor will normally take the lead in building the relationship with the student, but this should be a two way process.
To establish this relationship, the counselor should ask the student to come in for regular meetings. These should cover the student’s university application progress, and the student’s progress in their academic and extracurricular life.
Due to the counselor to student ratio being extremely large, the counselor should use Unifrog’s CV, Competencies, and Activities tools to efficiently glean relevant information about each student.
Students should not feel as if filling out these tools with their achievements is them “bragging” about themselves - being clear about accomplishments and endeavors is the only way the counselor can write accurate Letters of Recommendation.
I am an incoming student at Johns Hopkins University. I have always been part of the international community and have attended French and American schools in the United Kingdom, London and the United Arab Emirates, Dubai. Having constantly been in the midst of change, I understand the importance in having the right support through the rigorously competitive U.S. college admissions process.