Recommendation letters from counselors not serving real purpose

Natalie Van Genderen, Editor-in-Chief

As high school seniors around the country are taxing themselves over the upcoming months to complete college applications, they are facing the detrimental challenge of getting letters of recommendation. Most students often apply to more than one school and, therefore, usually need at least twice the number of references. Not every college or university requires a recommendation letter in order to submit a completed application, but some schools, such as the University of North Carolina, ask that prospective students include one to two reference letters. Out of the many schools that ask for letters of recommendation, many of them require that at least one of them is from a guidance counselor at the student’s high school and not just from an individual teacher.

Colleges and universities need to realize that by asking for letters of recommendation from guidance counselors, they are not getting the most valuable and specific information about the prospective students that they could possibly get. More often than not, counselors’ references are very general and are typically based on the student’s grade point average and class rank. High school students are more than just a number. They are more than just one out of 500 students assigned to one guidance counselor.

Getting accepted into a college depends on so much more than just academics and grades. Schools have found ways to learn more about applicants’ lives outside of the classroom through required resumes and essays on their applications, but these aspects of the student need to be illustrated in letters of recommendation as well. Obviously schools are going to be able to see the academic of a student from their transcripts and standardized test scores, but these required recommendations should give colleges an inside look of the student as a person.

The blame should not be put on the guidance counselors, however, since it is not their fault that they are responsible for around 500 students each. Sure, it would be ideal if guidance counselors were familiar with every single one of their assigned students and could write a detailed reference letter for each student who wanted one. Unfortunately, this is not the least bit realistic.

If a high school senior has a great student-counselor relationship that they have developed over their four years in high school, then their counselor is a great option for a student to use as a reference. If not, then seniors should have the option to reach out to a familiar teacher, a coach, or even an employer for a letter of recommendation. No student is going to want to submit a vague reference letter written about them to a college because they know it will not really do them any good in the application process.

Students should be able to choose who they think would best be able to write about them and give a valuable perspective. The individual student is going to be more aware than an admissions office of who they see as fitting to write about what colleges actually want to hear. However, if colleges and universities are not willing to accept and acknowledge recommendations from sources other than guidance counselors, then high schools across the country should work towards building better relationships between their counselors and students. That solution might mean that high schools should work to employ a more reasonable number of guidance counselors based on the student population in order to give students a better opportunity to develop these stronger relationships with the counselors.

Just as students are constantly learning in preparation for post-high school education or for the work force, colleges and universities are constantly learning from their prospective students what more schools can do to find the strongest students. As colleges continue to require letters of recommendation from their applicants, they need to become more flexible and allow high school seniors to make their own decisions about who to ask for references.