Month: September 2011

Tips for Successful Letters of Recommendation

Tips for Successful Letters of Recommendation

In an earlier post, I mentioned the ‘ins and outs’ of preparing a solid college essay and getting through the interview process. I also called your attention to deadlines at different colleges and universities. Today, I thought I would address questions surrounding the letter(s) of recommendation.

Once again, different schools ask students to meet different criteria. Typically, most institutions are looking for one or two letters of recommendation in support of an applicant—but some may ask for additional letters. Look at the guidelines in terms of who should write the recommendation on your behalf. Be sure to fulfill the exact requirement.

Here are a few general ideas to remember when asking for a letter of recommendation:

1. Identify recommenders who can speak on your behalf. Perhaps the biggest mistake you can make with recommendations is to ask someone who doesn’t know you and can’t attest to your interests and abilities. I recall receiving a letter from a U.S. Senator on behalf of an applicant. Sounds great right? Unfortunately, the letter consisted of one statement where the Senator stated he knew this student was an upcoming graduate of a particular high school but he couldn’t share anything additional as he had never met the student and had no information.

This is a missed opportunity. Your list of recommenders should consist of your guidance or college counselor (required by many colleges and universities), at least 2-3 teachers (one should include a teacher from a core academic class) and ideally someone who can attest to your interests/leadership outside the classroom. Choose wisely. Can this person attest to your aptitude, interest in a particular school, leadership qualities, maturity, character, and drive? Can this person embellish on a grade trend or discuss how your SATs are stellar but your performance in class had a dip? Pick those who can attest to your academic abilities in the area(s) you are thinking of studying. Think about the possibility of asking a teacher from a subject area that is not your strength, but who can perhaps shed light on your efforts and success stories.

2. Ask in advance. If the deadline for your application materials is November 1, ask now. Give your recommender(s) plenty of time to write on your behalf. Two to three weeks is very helpful. If you request a letter at the last minute, you can imagine it won’t have the same robust support you may have acquired by simply asking early. Respect the fact that your teachers and counselors have a lot on their plates too.

3. Provide a resume and some background. When you approach your recommender(s), ask for a few minutes of their time. Schedule 15-20 minutes on their calendars. Show up on time. Take a minute and share highlights on your resume as well as your interest in the school(s) you are applying to along with the appropriate deadlines. Let them know if they should submit the letter online or via hard copy directly to the university. Also, let them know when you might check back with them just to see if they have any questions. Give them a contact phone number or e-mail address just in case.

As for content, most recommenders have done this before. Yet it doesn’t hurt to let them know about some specific things that you think they might want to call attention to on your behalf. For instance, if you founded “Meals on Wheels” in your town but it is only one small line on your resume, you might want to mention that this effort is important to you and how much time you dedicate to the organization. You may want to call their attention to your desired major and offer support of academic achievement and challenges you have met that prepared you for the next step and in particular, that specific school’s program.

Chances are, you are applying to more than one school and the recommender may write a letter to be used for multiple applications. So remember—it is important that if they use the name of a particular school in the letter, ask them to make sure it is changed for the appropriate university throughout the letter.

4. Check back with your references. As the deadline approaches, there is nothing wrong with checking back in with your teachers or counselor to make sure everything is set.

5. Check with the college or university. Many schools invite students to check their application status online to see if something is in or still missing. If that option isn’t available, be sure to call the office and make sure all your credentials have been received.

6. Send a thank you note. Saying “Thank you” is always appreciated. A handwritten note is even better. Take the time to let your recommender know you appreciate their time in writing on your behalf and update them when you have your final decision made.

In the end, keep in mind that the letter of recommendation is one more way to share with an admission committee who you are and what unique traits you will bring to the university community.

USA Today’s “Top 20 Colleges for Community Service”

USA Today’s “Top 20 Colleges for Community Service”

This is the time of year we hear about college rankings. On an annual basis, Loyola does consistently well in the academic categories of the various rankings, but I want to mention one acknowledgment that really draws attention to Loyola students and our community. This is just one indication of an active community at work—with and for others.

Loyola was one of six colleges and universities chosen as a Presidential Awardee of the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll 2010. This is the highest award that a college or university can receive for commitment to community work-study programs, community service, and service-learning opportunities. Read about the recognition and some of the Promise Neighborhood programs that stood out.

This award is a reflection of our Jesuit philosophy—cura personalis, or care of the whole person. You see, while the Loyola Experience includes a commitment to academics and critical inquiry, we also believe that it is important for to you develop as a whole person, one who is willing to give of your time and talents to make your community stronger.

Why did Loyola earn this honor?

First and foremost, I wish to acknowledge the hard work of a friend and colleague, Patrick M. Green, EdD, Director for the Center for Experiential Learning. He and his team spend countless hours assisting students with opportunities to engage in more than 100 service-learning classes, participate in academic internships and/or clinical field experiences, work in funded undergraduate research fellowships, and engage in community-based work-study at more than 70 locations. Literally, thousands of students walk through the doors of the Center for Experiential Learning with the intention of putting their learning into practice while also making an impact on those around us.

Needless to say, our local community benefits from the number of programs students are actively involved in. And students benefit as well, gaining professional experience as well as a better understanding of the greater community. Here are a few statistics that help underscore the affect that Loyola’s experiential learning programs are making on students’ futures:

  • 80% of students were more interested in their internship field after participating.
  • 84% of students said they were likely to continue engaging in community-based work related to their service-learning course topic.
  • 97% of students in the Loyola Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (LUROP) reported feeling equipped with the skills needed to be successful in a career as a result of their research experience.
  • 91% of students in LUROP reported a greater understanding of theories and concepts in their field as a result of their research experiences.

All in all, I think the above numbers paint a pretty strong picture of how experiential learning at Loyola is making a difference in the community while preparing students for personal and professional success. But why not see for yourself? Take a look at some of the opportunities available—and what you can look forward to—at the Center for Experiential Learning.

The above statistics were pulled from this year’s Center for Experiential Learning Annual Impact Report.

Deadlines, Deadlines, and more Deadlines

Deadlines, Deadlines, and more Deadlines

Have you checked your mail lately? Your inbox? Do you have a stack of college brochures somewhere on the floor in your house?

If you are reading the information you’ve received, you’ll notice that every college or university seems to have a different admission and scholarship process and yes, even different deadlines.

Probably the best way to wrap your mind around all of the different requirements and dates will be to put it all on paper. So go ahead and pull out a sheet of poster board and tack it up in your room or set up an Excel spreadsheet that you can continuously refer to throughout your college search process. List the schools you will apply to and leave room for a few more you might consider later. When is the application deadline? What do you need to request from a teacher/counselor/registrar? What is the scholarship deadline?

Write it all out. Visualization is an amazing trick. Believe me—it will help.

By the way, I assure you that college admission officers don’t get together to try to confuse the process or add to your stress during your senior year. It is really just a matter that each school operates differently. We all have different committee review processes, admission criteria, admission decision dates, and ways that students can be considered for scholarships.

In the end, the deadlines help us to help you. By meeting the appropriate deadlines for each school, you put yourself in the best possible position for admission consideration and potentially, scholarship consideration. Once admitted, you are also set up to receive additional information on majors, clubs and organizations, residence life, financial aid, additional scholarships, and more.

All of this is in support of giving you, the student, an opportunity to drive the rest of the process. You see, the tables turn once you are admitted. From this point forward, admission officers are all waiting to hear from you. So take time to visit each campus, sit in on classes, talk with students and faculty, and attend an open house or admitted student event.

I invite you to get organized if you haven’t done so already. Attack the deadlines, don’t fear them. For those of you who doubt the poster idea, one of our sophomore students returned this fall and dropped by the admission office. She mentioned a friend of hers who is applying to Loyola and said how she recommended the poster board idea because “it saved her life.” She remembers organizing it and then adding to it and crossing things off as she completed tasks and met deadlines. I am personally many years removed from the college application process, but given that she just went through it herself with success, I strongly believe she has a good idea.

P.S.: Loyola’s priority application deadline is December 1!

Writing a Great College Essay

Writing a Great College Essay

Those of you applying to some selective or highly selective colleges and universities will be asked to write an essay or submit a personal statement.  Chances are you’ve already started to write them. Don’t panic. The essay is your chance to bring your application to life.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Read first. What is the question? How many words can you use? This is one of the biggest mistakes an applicant makes by submitting an essay that doesn’t answer the question or fails to stay within the guidelines (relatively speaking).

Brainstorm. Think about what you want to write about. If you were standing in front of the admission officer or committee reviewing your application and you had only 3 – 5 minutes to share something unique about yourself, what would you say?  What distinguishes you from others?

Stay away from the resume. You may be asked to submit a resume of activities as a part of your application. Do not use your essay as a chance to reiterate your resume by listing all of the sports, clubs, organizations you are a part of in school or your community.  Think of the essay as a great cover letter to a great resume.

Be honest. Write from a source of truth and be passionate about your topic. Paint the story for the reader as if he or she is there. You don’t need to use a laundry list of adjectives, but take a moment and draw the reader into your life.  Build the story by sharing something about yourself or your point of view.

Take a risk. Some of the best essays I ever read started with an unusual statement. To this day I still remember an essay starting with, “Old people are stinky.” The student brought to life his experience with some classmates volunteering at a senior living home where his initial bias was changed due to some great chess games with a war veteran named Charlie.

Remember the basics. Spell check. Read it out loud for grammar and transitions. Type it. Use a font size easy to read. If you used the same essay for a different school, take the name of that school off the top of the essay and/or check the body of the essay so it doesn’t appear there, either. If you e-mail the essay or upload it to your application account, put your name and address on it.  Sending something from “” or the equivalent  doesn’t help the admission office match it to you application.

    As you prepare to apply to Loyola, I hope you include a great essay that will make me walk out of my office and share it with other admission officers.  Each year we are amazed by the students who apply and take the time to share something unique about their own experiences.  Likewise, we can imagine what they will bring to our Loyola community in the years to come.