I can’t believe it’s already nearing the end of October! At St. John’s, we’re winding down our travel season and setting our sights on beginning our application review for the year. Hopefully you have all been busy thinking and writing about some good books for your supplemental essays (which we’re all excited to read), have started the process of getting your transcripts in order, and maybe are almost ready to hit submit on your application. I wanted to take a minute to break down maybe the most mysterious portion of your application that we require – your letters of recommendation.
If you’re a senior, there’s a good chance that you’ve already gotten these picked out, but I thought I’d take a moment and talk a bit about how we use these letters in our application process.
For our application, there are pieces that are within your control: your grades, potential test scores, and essay. These items all tell us something different about who you are as a person and as a student. However, it’s also helpful for us to hear about how great you are from someone in a professional capacity, especially from someone who has had significant training in preparing students for college life. They also might be able to fill in some blanks about you that you maybe left out of the application, or that you didn’t think to include, in a helpful way.
Your teacher evaluation is important so that we know how you operate in a classroom environment. Are you a voracious reader? Do you ask really good questions? Do you offer meaningful insights in classroom discussions? These are all qualities that would make a good Johnnie, and so this will help in the application process. It’s important to ask for an evaluation from a teacher who knows you well, that has taught you in a class that you enjoyed, or worked really hard in. Maybe the teacher made you fall in love with English, or the teacher who taught a Chemistry course that you never thought you’d pass, but did! These are just a few examples to consider, but I think it’s in good form to get a letter of recommendation from somebody who was able to watch you grow as a learner in a meaningful way.
The counselor evaluation is a little bit different. Your counselor should focus on taking a “macro” level view on your academic experience. They can explain to us why you would make for a good student at St. John’s; tell us about more about what your grades say about you as a learner, and anything else that we might want to take into consideration in the application process. They’ve had a little bit more experience in writing letters of recommendation for colleges, so it’s important to include them in the equation as well.
What about other types of recommendations? Maybe you are a non-traditional student, or come from a homeschool background, and don’t have a typical teacher or counselor who knows you well. In these cases, it’s best to look for people in your life who are able to recommend you in similar ways, or have seen you in similar environments. We have seen everything from recommendations from parents, work supervisors, religious officials, coaches, mentors, and workers with College Bound Organizations. We will be able to take the time and contextualize these materials as best we can to review your application in the most holistic way possible.
Writing letters of recommendation takes time and effort, and your teachers and counselors will most likely be writing many of them for your peers as well. Be sure to thank them at the end of this crazy process for taking the time to recommend you to a college. It will mean a lot to them, especially during this crazy time of year. And if you’re a junior, start thinking about who you would want your recommendation letter to come from! Right now is a good time to begin planning.
Enjoy the rest of the fall season, and hopefully this helps demystify the St. John’s application process.