Q. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that kids applying to college should get recommendation letters from 11th-grade teachers. But if a child has a closer relationship with a teacher from a 9th or 10th grade class, is that acceptable?
A. "It doesn't have to be an 11th-grade teacher," says Joseph Toles, school counselor at Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills. More important is the teacher having something to say about the child's strengths or growth. Kids usually get more than one teacher recommendation, anyway, so they can also mix grades.
Robert Pertusati, senior associate dean of admissions at Stony Brook University, agrees. Pertusati and Toles fielded the question recently on a panel at a parents' seminar sponsored by Half Hollow Hills' PTA Council called "Preparing for the Transition to College."
Colleges don't want to see recommendations from a teacher who can only say, "He made it to class on time." They want a deeper connection with a student, Pertusati says.
"The teacher has to have something to say about the student. Think less about the year the experience happened and more about how that experience relates to what that student wants to do," he says.
Also, if a student is pursuing a particular discipline, a recommendation should come from a teacher who can assess the child's potential in that field. If a child is interested in engineering, for instance, a recommendation should come from a science or math teacher. "It would be very critical," Pertusati says.