This is part of a series of posts providing advice you can use when completing The Common Application for 2011. You can find the entire series, including tips for the Common App’s required essays and advice on completing the activities section at https://blog.accepted.com/acceptedcom_blog/tag/2011-common-application-tips.
Several colleges offer applicants the opportunity to submit a personal letter of recommendation. For Duke University, it’s an optional letter from a parent, sibling, relative or friend. Dartmouth College is a bit more restrictive, requiring a letter from one of your peers.
How should you approach this portion of the application? Should you send something at all? In the case of the Duke application, consider sending a letter if you feel that it will enhance you application and add a different information from what you have already provided.
One year, an applicant submitted a letter from his mother with his application. At the time, I was reviewing applications for Washington University, and the letter stood out, as it was completely unsolicited. (It was probably also written for another college, which was fine.) The mother, well she made a compelling argument for her son, beginning with the obvious statement, “that I am his mother, and of course I think that he is wonderful.” In subsequent paragraphs, she went further, offering anecdotes about how her son interacted with others and addressed problems. She acknowledged his weaknesses, “he spends more time on the computer than we would like.” The key to her recommendation was its focus on the student with the supportive anecdotes providing new perspective.
In a peer recommendation, a student supported her classmate by calling her experimental, and referred to their trip to a Japanese restaurant where the applicant ordered squid and eel, leaving the writer to timidly order fried vegetables. This student wrote a short — 3 paragraphs — letter, but she covered the nature of their relationships and personal experiences that brought the candidate to life.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do in submitting one of these letters, is find a writer who is truly willing to spend the time it takes to write a focussed, specific, and interesting letter that will enhance your candidacy.