As a parent, you might have thought your college application work was done, once you had overseen the last “submit” of the Common Application. And so it seemed — until you, or one of your friends, receive a letter inviting you to add a parent’s recommendation to your child’s college admission file.
The parent recommendation, much like the peer recommendation, has been around for quite some time at a small number of colleges. This year, the request by the University of Richmond has sparked conversation.
In my files, I have several old parent recommendations, from corporate parents who graded their children with bullet points of positives and negatives as they would a job candidate to a 3 page, single spaced opus that brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. Of course these parents each think their children are wonderful. As a parent, that’s our job – to be our child’s biggest fan. But each one makes careful note of the characteristics that make their child human and individual.
I never worked at a college that required a parent (or peer) letter of recommendation, but when I received one unsolicited I read it with joy. Someone cared about this student and wanted to make him or her known to me. Well written or not, that additional recommendation makes the applicant a bit more human – more than a GPA or an SAT score, or a list of extracurricular activities. The additional voice taught me more than an essay about kicking the winning soccer goal ever could.
I’m not suggesting that every parent of a college applicant begin writing an unsolicited recommendation. Should you be offered the opportunity, take it. Yes, the reader expects you to be biased, but you know your child in a way that no one else does. The experiences you find seminal to his childhood or adolescence might not be shared in any other format. It is insightful, to the admissions office, and probably in the end to the writer as well.
This morning, I pulled out that three-page opus, about a young man, who more than a decade ago was stubborn and serious, and ready to contribute to the fight against global warming. I wonder what path he’s taken. I’m still thankful that he and his mother shared his story with me.
By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.