College recommendation letters should ideally come from someone who knows the applicant well — someone who can speak to strengths, weaknesses, hidden triumphs, and personal ambitions. Who better than mom or dad?
There are a lot of reasons why recommendation letters from parents might not seem like a good idea. That whole bias thing, for one. But an increasing number of colleges (including Smith College, the University of Richmond, and Holy Cross) allow parents to submit letters on behalf of their children. While the letters are optional, they’re proving to be popular; admissions officials at Smith estimate that nearly half of all applicants included a parental recommendation.
And though it may seem counterintuitive, the admissions team has found that parents are sometimes the best ones for giving an honest portrayal of their child. While teachers and coaches may be overwhelmed by recommendation requests and provide a letter that’s not much more than standardized praise, parents are writing only one letter. And it’s for someone they know quite well. “You might think they do nothing but brag,” said Deb Shaver, Smith’s director of admission. “But parents really nail their kids. They really get to the essence of what their daughter is about in a way we can’t get anywhere else.”
Some have objected to the parental letter practice by saying that it “advantages the advantaged,” in that lower-income applicants (especially families where English isn’t spoken at home) might be dissuaded from penning a glowing letter, and thus at a disadvantage. But Smith has found ingenious ways around that problem. Shaver remembers one parent who drove several hours to campus to give his recommendation in person, because he wasn’t comfortable writing in English.
And perhaps most importantly, the practice allows parents to feel like they’re a part of the college application race. They sing their children’s praises directly at the admissions committee and not feel like overbearing weirdos. And the heartfelt letters become family mementos in some cases. (No one’s going to read their senior-year chemistry teacher’s recommendation in ten years and start crying.)
Would you write a recommendation for your kids? Or would you want your parents to write one for you?