A Team Approach: Fostering Teacher Support for the College Admissions Process

Katie Creel

Teachers are an integral part of the college admissions process, and college counselors must be proactive in involving the teaching faculty as advocates for students who are working on their applications.  None of it can be done without the aid of supportive teachers, so the college counselor must make certain that the members of the academic community feel like a part of the team.  The following suggestions can help get and keep teachers on board as an important resource for students:

Encourage students to be respectful of the workload of teachers

Remind them to give teachers plenty of notice when asking for that all-too-important letter of recommendation.  Knowing 2-3 months in advance that a letter will be needed will help instructors plan out their schedules given the hectic demands that arise throughout the school year.

All student-teacher communication should be done face-to-face

Students should never make requests via e-mail, and they should never deposit materials on a teacher’s desk in an envelope.  In order to ensure that nothing is lost and that deadline dates are understood, all materials should be handed directly to the teacher who has agreed to write the letter.

Assess the size of the class and the number of teachers available in order to design a smooth system of packaging applications.

Some schools have coordinated systems in which the writing of letter of recommendations is evenly dispersed. Others follow a freer flowing format.  When all of the paper work is sent off, it is only complete when every member of the team has done his/her part and performed his/her role to the utmost of his/her professional responsibility.

Sponsor recommendation workshops for teachers

They should provide their faculty with case examples that are viewed as being solid representations of what should be comprised in a letter.  The college counselor should also reinforce how important the letters are in rounding out the candidacy of the student.  Too often teachers feel as if they are “cogs in a wheel” sending out reams and reams of paper that will never be read.  Explain that some Admissions committees and offices increasingly value teacher recommendations because they give daily insight to the student’s academic and personal performance.

Keep the lines of communication open with the teachers

It is not a bad idea to check in with teachers to see if they are all set with materials and understand the game plan in terms of the number of applications that a given student will be sending out.  In fact, this is a must when dealing with the disorganized student who has trouble meeting deadlines and organizing forms.  Try to minimize an instructor’s level of frustration by knowing that you are working to streamline the paperwork and are ensuring a smooth flow.  If the college counseling office packages the entire application, this dialogue is critical!  No matter how busy, no member of the college team should work separately from one another. Rather, they are a complementary force of advocacy on behalf of the student body.

When crafting their own global letters of recommendation, counselors should interview selected teachers

As part of the “admissions team”, teachers are the great suppliers of that perfect hook which will serve as the foundation for capturing the character of the student.  Contrary to popular belief, teachers do not like to work in isolation.  They have pertinent insights into adolescent development and are often very forthcoming in sharing their observations.

Promote a school atmosphere in which teachers can be frank with students

Prepare the students for the fact that a letter from a certain teacher might not be in their best interest.  This often is the case for math and English teachers who are often tapped frequently to write an overwhelmingly large portion of the letter load.

It is perfectly acceptable for a teacher to inform a particular student that he or she might want to seek a letter from an alternate person who may portray that student’s talents in a more appealing light.  This is a much better scenario than the one in which the disgruntled and overworked teacher writes an unflattering, minimalist letter. Teachers can also set limits on the number of letters they will write by setting a first come first serve policy.

Continue to monitor the temperature of the faculty in order to be certain that no teacher is overwhelmed with writing letters

This usually surfaces in late October as the “Early Action” and state university applications role around.  College counselors can play an important role in directing students toward other teachers who are not as burdened and who might have more available time to draft a meaningful letter.

Teachers should always feel that they are appreciated, and nothing says this more than a public “thank you”

A fall social gathering sponsored by the college counseling staff is great idea if it is within your budget.  A simple get-together complete with snacks on a Friday afternoon creates an esprit-de-corps.  Thank-you notes, certificates of appreciation, and other inexpensive rewards can also get the message across.

Stress the importance for students to keep teachers informed of their successes

Teachers love to hear the good news and to know that they were part of a process that helps to make many dreams to come true.  Let the academic community and the athletic staff share in the successes and achievements of their students.  Even the roller coaster rides are important to share!  Few students experience 100% smooth sailing.  Using discretion, have the students keep the teachers in the loop. They can be a great source of support.  Counselors can even do some appropriate advance work so that teachers can be present when they are most needed- to share in the joy of the acceptances and the disappointments of rejection.

Remind students to write “thank you” notes

In fact, counselors should lead by example and write a simple note or purchase an inexpensive gift as a sign of appreciation for those instructors who pull more than their fair share of the burden.

Respect the domain of the teachers

When students stress over their grade point average, particularly at the conclusion of the First Quarter of their senior year, the counselor should only serve as a facilitator of communication.  If a counselor seems to be advocating grade inflation in order to make the college application process go more smoothly, faculty may become resentful.  Do your best to help students and teachers talk to each other about grades, but also respect the grading process designed by the teacher and approved by the school administration.

Foster a sense among the students that teachers are an excellent resource for selecting a college or choosing a major

Teachers are often very proud of their alma maters, and they love sharing their experiences in higher learning with their students.  Most important is their advice relating to course selection and how to structure course work into a challenging career in the discipline that they teach.  Always portray gifted teachers as the experts that they are!  Direct students to teachers whose backgrounds may be beneficial in clearing up murky areas outside of your expertise.