Family Matters

The Latest Trend in College Admissions: Parents Write Letters of Recommendation

Some colleges are starting to ask Mom and Dad to put in a written plug for their progeny in the college admissions process.

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We’re coming up on a super-stressful time of year for high school seniors: some already have learned via early admission which colleges accepted or rejected them, but many more will find out in April where they’ll be spending the next four years of their lives.

Increasingly, their parents may have played a role in whether the news calls for celebration. In an era of helicopter parenting, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that mom and dad may be penning letters of recommendation for Junior. Recently, the Associated Press reported on a handful of colleges — including Smith College, Mt. Holyoke and Holy Cross in Massachusetts, St. Anselm in New Hampshire and the University of Richmond — that welcome parents to write letters of recommendation for their children who are applying.

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It’s unclear to me what a parent could possibly have to say that could serve to both enlighten and come off as semi-objective and thus semi-useful. According to the AP:

What do parents tell colleges about their flesh and blood? Rarely anything bad, to be sure (though sadly, it does happen). A fair share burst with predictably over-the-top pride in their children’s virtues, which are dated back to infancy, and in some cases, utero (a few years ago, Smith decided to impose a single-page limit).

But there’s a reason Smith has stuck with the process for about 20 years now, despite the extra work, says Smith’s director of admission, Deb Shaver. Sometimes parents offer just the kind of color that can bring to life a candidate whose full personality is hidden in a portrait painted only with grades, test scores and traditional recommendations letters from teachers and guidance counselors.

“You might think they do nothing but brag,” Shaver said. “But parents really nail their kids. They really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can’t get anywhere else.”

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For now, the trend appears pretty self-contained. Perhaps that’s because, as the “Ask the Dean” guru at College Confidential explained, the majority of admissions counselors didn’t seem to be big fans when the topic came up on the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) listserv.

I was amazed by how many college admission folks made disparaging remarks about parent references. It was as if I could almost seeing [sic] them rolling their eyes in cyberspace. The general consensus seemed to be that, of course, parents are going to support their kids, so the letters will inevitably lack credibility. Some college staffers even called the letters pretentious, their authors pompous or misguided.

Wisely, it turns out that those admissions officers who sanction the practice aren’t really seeking objectivity from parents; they’re seeking texture. And who better to offer that than the people who’ve been there from day one? Still, it does seem a little strange. Parents, do you think you could write a useful college recommendation for your flesh and blood?


I think you need to dig a bit deeper, Ms. Rochman.  

Colleges are getting all the texture necessary for this generation of kids from real grades, teacher and counselor recs, extracurriculars, sports, student-written essays, etc.  And many think the parents have already been "involved" with all of these elements of the college application already.  

So why would an obviously over-the-top rec from a parent even be considered?  I agree as you say the explanation is that parent's might give a college that extra, _necessary_ information that will allow the college to take that child who under normal circumstances would not be admitted.  But what is not normal any more and this new information seems to prove that colleges are businesses and desperately need students to pay for their over-the-top tuitions.  

 So if the high school and the student can't convince the school to take the child, then the parent certainly will AND the college and university can take the child and (more importantly) that freshman money!  

It's all about the money, Ms. Rochman (check recent stories on NPR about hours of actual work done in colleges vs. 1960s, the new country-club atmosphere, and the drinking binges.   And I would also suggest you do a "lastest research" search on retention of freshmen AND also how well prepared many of our freshmen are as they enter colleges and universities and the amount of remediation they need).  

 Maybe I am wrong though; it could be.  And maybe what this really is is a chance for the parents--who have prevented the administrators and teachers from simply doing their jobs all along AND constantly asking for this and that exception over and over and over and over until there are no rules, no expectations, no notion of achieving excellence, and throw in the "trophy if you were there" attitude--to just keep doing what they have been doing all along, such as, fighting their kids's battles and doing their homework and making their friends and fighting their bullies and wiping their noses.  

 And then what?  Will they go to work for their children?  be in relationships for their kids?  raise their kids kids?  

I know of two "adults" with excellent degrees, both tried to work (each got jobs in their professions), decided to quit just "because," who are both just sitting at their parents their mid-twenties.   Okay...sure...right? 

Thanks for the story!  Don