Counselor Letters of Recommendation

Susan Hartley Brisson

This blog is for our counselor colleagues on the high school side!

In our holistic admission process, letters of recommendation from counselors and teachers provide context and insight that are not available elsewhere in the application file. Thoughtful narratives take time and effort to compose, as well, and I’d like to reassure you that your letters are crucial to the success of our process. Our application readers recently shared some feedback about what they found most helpful in counselor recommendation letters. 

  • I find a counselor’s letter particularly useful when it includes information that the student did not already discuss in the application or goes into a depth of detail that illuminates something the student glossed over.  For example, sometimes a counselor can convey the depth of leadership a student displayed in a club, which may not be apparent from the student’s simple list.  Sometimes, also, counselors provide contextual information that the student did not, about the student’s background and family or about the reasons why a student’s transcript looks the way it does.


  • A description of ways in which the student has made an impact on their community or environment is particularly helpful.  At Olin, we expect students to engage fully in the community, and each student is more than 1% of their class!  Here are some examples: “this is the first year we are running an AP Computer Science course because Jackie and her friends petitioned the school to add the class” or “Jimmy started an environmental campaign/club at our school and now we have recycling bins in every classroom” or “Jared volunteers his time in our IT department and has helped to troubleshoot numerous issues for teachers and students”


  • Anecdotes! It is much more helpful to have a couple of anecdotes that give me a snapshot of who the student is as a human than anything else you could possibly put in a recommendation. The more specific the anecdotes, the better. Bring me into that moment. When you think of the student, what is the memory or the story that comes to mind? What did that student do or say that you just had to share with your colleagues or with your family? It is nice to have a balance of anecdotes: academic (I don’t really care what the task was, but rather how did they approach it, what questions did they ask, how did they interact with others, how did they deal with a setback, etc.?), social (a story that shows me what they bring to the community, what kind of friend or leader they are, etc.), and personal anecdotes (stories about their personal life that would help me get a better sense of them—maybe they have an uncommonly long commute to get to school, maybe they have family or home responsibilities that other students don’t have, maybe they are working on a super cool personal project, maybe they have an interesting hobby, maybe they did something notable at their part-time job). It’s okay to not cover everything that’s great about the student (I’d rather have a few quality anecdotes than an exhaustive list of qualities/accomplishments). And again, it’s really okay for them to not all be school-related.


Thank you for all you do!

Posted in: Susan, All Admission Staff Blogs