Strong letters of rec can set students apart from the pack


Jessica Rodrigues, Photography Editor

As seniors stress over grades, courses, and standardized tests, other secondary factors lurk quietly, usually forgotten about until a week before college applications are due. Ironically, these secondary factors could be the difference between a rejection or acceptance letter from that dream college.

According to BigFuture by The College Board’s “How to Get Great Letter of Recommendation,” letters of recommendation are valued by colleges to “reveal [skills and abilities] about you that grades and test scores can’t, provide personal opinions of your character, and show who is willing to speak on your behalf.”

Counselor Lee Vue says that he receives an average of 10 to 15 requests from his students for letters of recommendation per year.

“I try to highlight my student’s talents and personal traits, academic achievements, extracurricular activities, and growth or unique experience that I know about,” Vue said. “I basically attempt to convince the benefactor that my student is the most ideal candidate.”

“Letters of recommendation can provide additional important information [and] insight from those that know the student…that the student may not be able to include on the application,” Joel Gonzalez, admissions director at UCSF’s Doctor of Pharmacy program said.

Letters of recommendation are also required for a majority of scholarships and academic advancement opportunities. Seniors Jennifer Gonzalez and Ju Hee Park were finalists in QuestBridge’s College Search which allowed them to get additional guidance throughout the application process and possibly earn scholarships.

Both students learned firsthand the importance of letters of recommendation and why it’s critical to convey deadlines in advance.

All of their application materials, including letters of recommendation included, were due to colleges by November 1 or their application would not be reviewed and they would be denied acceptance to their Early Action choice.

Gonzalez said she gave her counselor, Ivan Tunnell, the needed materials to fill out the letter of recommendation on September 23; unfortunately, she says, he did not complete it until December 30.

“The only situation I know about is her CommonApp and that was submitted on time,” Tunnell said.

“I put in multiple call-slips in to see him but he intentionally ignored me,” Gonzalez said.

Tunnell denies having known about the urgency and specifics of the situation.

“Jennifer asked for a letter of recommendation during the college application season but she did not provide a deadline or a College Guidelines paper for me to reference,” Tunnell said in an email response. “She did complete appointment slips to see me in the meantime but the times I called for her were not convenient for her due to class assignments and/or other class obligations.”

When college decisions came out on December 1, Gonzalez was not accepted to any of her schools due to an incomplete application.

Although letters of recommendation may seem like an afterthought when compared to perfect transcripts and numerous extra curriculars, they truly can be the deciding factor that helps an applicant stand out against the thousands of other candidates and should be treated with just as much urgency and perseverance as any other section of the application.

The counseling office does not have an official policy concerning letters of recommendation but it is advised that students request letters well in advance of due dates.

“To avoid the possibility of missed deadlines, I tell students throughout the year that if they need to see me urgently, they should come to the counseling office before school, during lunch or after school,” Tunnell said in an email repsonse. “My door is usually open and I will make time to meet.”