A recommendation letter can discuss personal challenges a student has faced. The letter can help to clarify a student’s learning style and break down what the student brings to a conversation about an academic topic. Colleges are trying to build diverse classes of students, not only bring in high scoring students.
A recommendation letter should not only talk about achievements, but highlight the intangible aspects of a student’s application. This will help admissions officers reach the goal of building a class that will prosper at the school and take advantage of the opportunities the school provides.
An example of an intangible could be writing a selective, respectful history of a student’s turbulent home life. This would not reflect poorly upon the applicant or the writer. Strengths and struggles should be both talked about–honestly. A quality letter will add depth by doing so. Too many letters make students generic. Depth helps to avoid making letters all sound the same.
Recommendation writers can and should be advocates for a student’s entire life. It is not enough for the writer to talk only about the student’s academics and club involvement, for example. The students are only just starting to come into their own academically and personally. Their accomplishments up to that moment do not always convey what they will accomplish in the future. Letters should not be written as if it is the end of the story, but give an idea about the student’s potential. It’s a recommender’s job to make admissions officers ponder how a student’s story will continue to evolve.
Students looking for recommenders must think carefully about who they ask for letters of recommendation. The recommender should be someone the student has had a chance to build a relationship with over time. The recommender should know the student well.