Sometimes, students ask you for letters of recommendation. This is great! They are going on to do amazing things in their lives and you get to be part of that process! It shows that they trust you, that they feel seen by you, and they want you to share your thoughts!
There are a few times, however, when this honor presents a tricky challenge.
Scenario 1: The student knows you well enough to hope for a letter from you. But… you don’t know the student very well. You don’t want to say, “I haven’t had Madison in a class since she was a sophomore and I have no idea what she’d bring to your institute of higher learning.”
Scenario 2: Maybe he or she was a fine student, not a great student, and you don’t want to say, in a college recommendation letter, “Maximillian mostly did his homework, rarely raised his hand in class, turned in so-so papers, and squeaked by with a B.”
Scenario 3: Eight students have asked for letters of recommendation, you’ve done most of them throughout the past month, and one night — you wake up in the middle of the night wondering if one of their deadlines is approaching! Back in October, the college recommendation deadline seemed so far away…you didn’t bother recording when it was due!
I created a survey on Google Docs which asks students their name and the deadline. Then, it asks a series of questions which you might find on an application to college:
- What are some important things you’ve learned about life in the past two years?
- What is one accomplishment you’re proud of in the past two years?
- What is one challenge you’ve overcome in the past two years?
And so on. With this information, I can craft a letter which gives great insight into who the student is – in the same way that a journalist might interview a subject in order to write a thoughtful, positive, editorial piece. And since I don’t need to scrape my memories for something worth saying, the writing process is quicker and more efficient, while the content is deeper. WIN, WIN!
(Oh, and, since the answers are routed into a spreadsheet, I can put an X next to students whose letter I’ve completed.)
Now, when I student says, “Wolk, can I have a letter of recommendation?” my response is, “Sure! I’m sending you a link to a questionairre. Fill it in, and I’ll get right on it!”
And if you’re wondering what students reactions are – they seem unphased. They aren’t offended that I want them to articulate some of their strengths, and frankly, I think they’re glad to know a little bit about what I’ll be writing!
So basically, the letter of recommendation questionnaire?
I recommend it.