Preparing for College

Do Generic Guidance Counselor References Hurt Applicants?

Question: My son attends a large public high school. Students are asked to submit a "senior profile" detailing their grades, extracurriculars, academics, etc., and parents are asked to write a "sample letter of recommendation for your student." Needless to say, the counselor does not know any individual student very well, and in our case the limited contact my student has had with his counselor has not been particularly warm. How much weight do private college admissions offices place on the counselor recommendation, and are they aware of these practices?

A good counselor reference can definitely help a borderline student gain admission to his or her target colleges, but a bad one won't hurt. Admission officials are accustomed to receiving brief and generic references from school counselors, especially (although not exclusively) from huge public schools where the guidance staff members shoulder unwieldy loads. So, when a reference rolls into admission offices that says little more than, "This student has been a responsible member of our community and will succeed at the college of his choice," admission officials won't hold it against him. Likewise, they are used to seeing references that are little more than a regurgitation of resume fodder that they've already found elsewhere in the application: "Ralph has been on the swim team for three years, plays in our school band, and is a member of our Spanish Club." Again, no harm no foul.

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