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counselor letter: how to address relative weakness?


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#1 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 01:10 PM

If any of you wrote a counselor recommendation that addressed some weakness amidst all the strengths, how did you do it?  

 

My son, for example, has some difficulty with self-discipline.  Part of this is understandable, I think, because unlike a B&M student who has teachers around all the time, my son often has several hours at home alone while I'm at work.  So he has no one to keep his feet to the fire.  But, of course, his situation in college will be much closer to our scenario than to that of the public HS, and I'm afraid a college would see a red flag.

 

Any ideas?  Anyone willing to share how you handled your own child's less-than-stellar traits?

 



#2 Lori D.

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 02:46 PM

Just a quick side note: Being alone for several hours and having to self-study, or being around teachers who remind you of what's due/when -- either way is no guarantee that a student develops self-motivation. Plenty of public school graduates come in to college with difficult with self-discipline, and they were around teachers for years. ;)

 

 

JMO: but I would not include this in a counselor letter for several reasons:

 

1. It's not a relevant quality that universities look for, ask about, or care about. Either students already are -- or quickly learn to be -- self-motivated and self-disciplined, or they aren't/don't. Either way the university has your tuition money, and they are fine with taking your money again for not doing well in a class and having to re-take.

 

2. That is a very "mushy"-subjective character quality; don't know how you would quantify that properly to add it to a counselor letter. What does "some difficulty" mean? What is DS being compared TO? The only place I would see this trait "showing up" would be as part of the transcript in an indirect way -- either he completed his credits, or he didn't. And the grade earned on the transcript (whether an "A" or a "D") reflects both his innate skill/ability in the subject but also whether or not all work was completed, or completed on time (as many teachers drop grade levels or points for incomplete or late work).

 

3. Finally, DS will mostly likely surprise you and rise to the occasion when he needs to do so with the higher expectations of college professors, and seeing the example around him of many students who are self-disciplined and are self-studying.

 

You might consider enrolling your DS in a "college success" type of class over the summer -- a 1-2 unit course offered by the university itself in how to study, how to organize, how to manage time/stuff, etc -- the info and "tools" that help students figure out how to be self-disciplined.

 

If DS is *really* struggling or lazy or immature in this particular area, then you and DS might want to look in to the possibility of a gap year between high school graduation and start of college, where he works or volunteers in some way that requires regular daily self-motivation and self-discipline, which could give him a chance to mature some of those adult character traits that help students succeed in college. Just a thought!

 

Again, all JMO. :) BEST of luck as you and DS move towards the next stage of life! :) Warmest regards, Lori D.


Edited by Lori D., 12 February 2018 - 02:53 PM.

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#3 regentrude

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:03 PM

I would only include this if it were needed as an explanation for why the student underperformed.

Otherwise, it is not necessary to include this in the counselor letter.


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#4 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:06 PM

Just a quick side note: Being alone for several hours and having to self-study, or being around teachers who remind you of what's due/when -- either way is no guarantee that a student develops self-motivation. Plenty of public school graduates come in to college with difficult with self-discipline, and they were around teachers for years. ;)

 

 

JMO: but I would not include this in a counselor letter for several reasons:

 

1. It's not a relevant quality that universities look for, ask about, or care about. Either students already are -- or quickly learn to be -- self-motivated and self-disciplined, or they aren't/don't. Either way the university has your tuition money, and they are fine with taking your money again for not doing well in a class and having to re-take.

 

2. That is a very "mushy"-subjective character quality; don't know how you would quantify that properly to add it to a counselor letter. What does "some difficulty" mean? What is DS being compared TO? The only place I would see this trait "showing up" would be as part of the transcript in an indirect way -- either he completed his credits, or he didn't. And the grade earned on the transcript (whether an "A" or a "D") reflects both his innate skill/ability in the subject but also whether or not all work was completed, or completed on time (as many teachers drop grade levels or points for incomplete or late work).  This is why I thought it might be important to mention, if I'm to give an honest assessment. His grade in one art class fell to a B just because he wouldn't watch some of the assigned videos!  

 

3. Finally, DS will mostly likely surprise you and rise to the occasion when he needs to do so with the higher expectations of college professors, and seeing the example around him of many students who are self-disciplined and are self-studying.

 

You might consider enrolling your DS in a "college success" type of class over the summer -- a 1-2 unit course offered by the university itself in how to study, how to organize, how to manage time/stuff, etc -- the info and "tools" that help students figure out how to be self-disciplined.  Good idea.  I think the local CC offers one.

 

If DS is *really* struggling or lazy or immature in this particular area, then you and DS might want to look in to the possibility of a gap year between high school graduation and start of college, where he works or volunteers in some way that requires regular daily self-motivation and self-discipline, which could give him a chance to mature some of those adult character traits that help students succeed in college. Just a thought!  This is certainly a possibility... I know it has worked well for your DS.  Time will tell!

 

Again, all JMO. :) BEST of luck as you and DS move towards the next stage of life! :) Warmest regards, Lori D.

 

Good points all around, Lori.  Thank you!

 

 


Edited by Miss Mousie, 12 February 2018 - 03:11 PM.


#5 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:10 PM

I would only include this if it were needed as an explanation for why the student underperformed.

Otherwise, it is not necessary to include this in the counselor letter.

 

I think it does contribute to under-performance.  As I mentioned to Lori above, he dropped a grade in an art class because he wouldn't watch all of the assigned videos.  There are other, less quantifiable effects, too, as simple as banging out a halfhearted essay loaded with errors instead of focusing on doing quality work.  Then there are the failed Spanish tests because he wouldn't learn the vocabulary....

 

(Note to self:  It's February.  He's driving you crazy because it's February.  ;) )


Edited by Miss Mousie, 12 February 2018 - 03:12 PM.


#6 Lori D.

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:32 PM

...he dropped a grade in an art class because he wouldn't watch all of the assigned videos.  There are other, less quantifiable effects, too, as simple as banging out a halfhearted essay loaded with errors instead of focusing on doing quality work.  Then there are the failed Spanish tests because he wouldn't learn the vocabulary....

 

Actually, I would think those would show up as lowered final grades for the courses, just like with the art class. ;)

 

 

I think it does contribute to under-performance.  As I mentioned to Lori above, he dropped a grade in an art class because he wouldn't watch all of the assigned videos.  There are other, less quantifiable effects, too, as simple as banging out a halfhearted essay loaded with errors instead of focusing on doing quality work.  Then there are the failed Spanish tests because he wouldn't learn the vocabulary....

 

(Note to self:  It's February.  He's driving you crazy because it's February.   ;) )

 

 

Teachable moment with DS, maybe??

 

You might sit down with DS and ask what's going on, and show him how not completing work, or only doing passable/sloppy work is losing him points which results in a lowered grade.

 

If you absolutely *know* that DS is capable of better work AND that he is not ill, or struggling with emotional/mental issues, or circumstances that are causing a slump in work ethic, AND if you know what his "currency" is (i.e., what is he willing to work for), in addition to mentioning he is losing points, you might also include a way of making up points, or having that reward of "his currency" to help motivate him. Is it cash? A special event? An item?

 

Let's face it: all of us hit slumps and need rewards or payment to encourage us to keep dedicated to doing our best. ;) And spring semester, senior-itis hits most 12th graders hard. What positive "carrot" can you use and reward him with once a week or every two weeks for the next 3 months for keeping up his level of performance through graduation? :)


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#7 regentrude

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 03:45 PM

I think it does contribute to under-performance.  As I mentioned to Lori above, he dropped a grade in an art class because he wouldn't watch all of the assigned videos.  There are other, less quantifiable effects, too, as simple as banging out a halfhearted essay loaded with errors instead of focusing on doing quality work.  Then there are the failed Spanish tests because he wouldn't learn the vocabulary....

 

Unless his transcript is disastrous and you need to explain Ds, I would still not mention it. (And honestly, with a truly bad transcript, I would make him retake the course and simply not have him apply to college at this point)
 

It's your homeschool. I'd make him redo the essay until it passes muster. He will learn. Not sure what good it would do in a counselor letter to tell the college "student lacks self discipline". What  are they supposed to do with this information?


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#8 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 04:06 PM

I just remembered this thread that I started back in Dec. 2015:

 

http://forums.welltr...with-your-teen/

 

I've been beating the same drum for a long time!

 

 



#9 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 04:11 PM

Unless his transcript is disastrous and you need to explain Ds, I would still not mention it. (And honestly, with a truly bad transcript, I would make him retake the course and simply not have him apply to college at this point)
 

It's your homeschool. I'd make him redo the essay until it passes muster. He will learn. Not sure what good it would do in a counselor letter to tell the college "student lacks self discipline". What  are they supposed to do with this information?

 

I'm sure you're right.  Thankfully, no Ds yet....  I guess I just thought an honest, complete assessment was what colleges were looking for - not just the good stuff.

 

As for your question, I'm not really sure what they're supposed to do with any of the information!  I mean, personality traits like social/quiet, studious/active, etc. might help them create a varied cohort, but otherwise, if everybody's a star, nobody can shine, YKIM?



#10 jdahlquist

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 04:30 PM

Unless this was specifically addressing some issue on the transcript or a question raised by the admissions staff, I would not include anything like this.  They want to know if he is a good match for the school.  Does this information help them decide that?  


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#11 Lori D.

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 04:53 PM

I'm sure you're right.  Thankfully, no Ds yet....  I guess I just thought an honest, complete assessment was what colleges were looking for - not just the good stuff.

 

As for your question, I'm not really sure what they're supposed to do with any of the information!  I mean, personality traits like social/quiet, studious/active, etc. might help them create a varied cohort, but otherwise, if everybody's a star, nobody can shine, YKIM?

 

Yes, I do understand what you're trying to do here, BUT, the counselor letter is meant to reflect

1. the philosophy of the school

2. the academic and extracurricular career of the student through the objective, quantifiable accomplishments of the student -- similar to a job resume.

 

The college will see how the student's personality and how the student is -- or is not -- with their campus life through the student's interests and passions that are listed on the extracurriculars document and what the student shares about himself on the admission essay.

___________________

 

Here's an example of a statement in a counselor letter of the not so good side that actually *explains* and tells the admission office something important about the transcript:

 

"Student was unable to complete a full credit of Art in 11th grade due to extended health issues that year (3-month bout of mono), which required reducing to a minimal course-load of just core academics."

 

 

And this, which just sounds like a frustrated parent venting, but does not tell the admission office anything useful:

 

"In the 11th grade Art class, student earned a "C" grade rather than a "B" grade for not completing all required class assignments due to lack of self-discipline."

 

Getting a lower grade than was possible falls in the realm of a "hazy if-only" -- that the transcript might might have been different "if only". But admission offices deal with "what is", and the transcript speaks for itself. Lack of self-discipline (or laziness, or immaturity, or whatever) is not an extenuating circumstance that needs to be explained.

 

___________________

 

:grouphug:  I know, having a student who is performing below what you know they are capable of is so frustrating. The only thing you can do at this stage is let them "own the transcript they earned", and let life throw some tough pitches at them, because that's the only way some of them learn that self-discipline, or other mature qualities. Speaking from experience with one of mine, who was several years past high school graduation before he matured in his own timetable in some of these areas. ;)


Edited by Lori D., 12 February 2018 - 05:00 PM.

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#12 Miss Mousie

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 05:00 PM

Yes, I do understand what you're trying to do here, BUT, the counselor letter is meant to reflect

1. the philosophy of the school

2. the academic and extracurricular career of the student through the objective, quantifiable accomplishments of the student -- similar to a job resume.

 

The college will see how the student's personality and how the student is -- or is not -- with their campus life through the student's interests and passions that are listed on the extracurriculars document and what the student shares about himself on the admission essay.

 

 

Here's an example of a statement in a counselor letter of the not so good side that actually *explains* and tells the admission office something important about the transcript:

 

"Student was unable to complete a full credit of Art in 11th grade due to extended health issues that year (3-month bout of mono), which required reducing to a minimal course-load of just core academics."

 

 

And this, which just sounds like a frustrated parent venting, but does not tell the admission office anything useful:

 

"In the 11th grade Art class, student earned a "C" grade rather than a "B" grade for not completing all required class assignments due to lack of self-discipline."

 

Getting a lower grade than was possible doesn't need to be explained -- the transcript speaks for itself in this second case. Lack of self-discipline (or laziness, or immaturity, or whatever) is not an extenuating circumstance that needs to be explained.

 

:grouphug:  I know, having a student who is performing below what you know they are capable of is so frustrating. The only thing you can do at this stage is let them "own the transcript they earned", and let life throw some tough pitches at them, because that's the only way some of them learn that self-discipline, or other mature qualities. Speaking from experience with one of mine, who was several years past high school graduation before he matured in his own timetable in some of these areas. ;)

 

Very helpful illustration.  Thank you.

 

Small question:  I thought the philosophy of the school belonged in the school report, along with local demographics, reasons for homeschooling, etc.  Am I wrong about that too?



#13 regentrude

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 05:03 PM

Small question:  I thought the philosophy of the school belonged in the school report, along with local demographics, reasons for homeschooling, etc.  Am I wrong about that too?

 

People do this differently.

I included all the school philosophy stuff in the school profile and focused the counselor letter entirely on the student.


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#14 freesia

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 05:24 PM

People do this differently.

I included all the school philosophy stuff in the school profile and focused the counselor letter entirely on the student.

 

Me, too.

 

For me, the counselor letter is about the student--giving a fuller picture of who s/he is.  I focused on things like how ds was a communicator and his creativity (and one other c--I can't remember off the top of my head) and gave examples of this (particularly examples that might not show up other places on his application). 

 

He's gotten in to 8 colleges so far with no one objecting to my method. (and regentrude's dc did well in college admissions, too.)

 

I absolutely would not focus on any weaknesses.  Leave that to the academic recommendation.


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#15 Corraleno

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 11:51 PM

The only time I would include negative traits would be in the context of "overcoming adversity." So if he struggled with self-discipline and organization as a 9th grader, but took the initiative to research and implement various methods for staying organized and on task, and greatly improved his academic performance through his own grit and determination, that would be relevant. But if you write that "he got a bad grade in art because he couldn't be bothered watching the videos," the picture you are painting for the adcom is basically an unmotivated kid sitting around doing nothing unless mom nags him. Without presenting evidence that he's overcome the problem, the implication is that he'll bring that same lack of motivation and self-discipline with him to college — which is not much of a selling point.
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#16 8FillTheHeart

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Posted 13 February 2018 - 06:32 AM

I agree with all of the above and would not include it at all.

I have included negative information in my counselor letters before and it was only included bc it was reflected in other parts of their application. For example, my dd's ECs pretty much vanished in 11th bc she was extremely ill the end of 10th and took months to start functioning again with any level of energy and is still suffers from very low energy. The shift from extremely active to basically crickets needed to be addressed.
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#17 DebbS

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Posted 13 February 2018 - 12:02 PM

I would not explain away a 'B' on a transcript by attributing it to your child's weakness. A 'B' is fine - no explanation needed. If he gets A grades in everything else, then a B means he is probably less passionate about a subject and that's okay. My fear, is that if you bring up this supposed 'weakness', they won't give as much weight to his A grades.

My son had a few Bs on his high school transcript and it actually helped him to get merit scholarships from the state school where he attends. I was told by the admissions office that they almost never give home school students merit scholarships because mommy grades aren't taken seriously. Because he did not have straight As but had high test scores(SAT and AP), they assumed that this mommy was a tough grader.

He is graduating Phi Beta Kappa (mom brag) this spring. The B grades in high school didn't hurt him a bit!


 


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#18 daijobu

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Posted 13 February 2018 - 11:04 PM

You are obligated to be honest in your application.  You are obligated to present your student in the best possible light.  (Think of it as a fiduciary responsibility.)  You are not obligated to present a confessional, describing every negative part of his personality.

 

I agree with PPs: only include anything negative if he has grown from the experience: learned from it, changed as a result, etc.  I also agree that a B does not require any additional comment.  

 

Now: focus on how your student excels!  


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#19 JanetC

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 11:21 AM

(Note to self:  It's February.  He's driving you crazy because it's February.  ;) )

 

Omigosh I hear you -- It's really hard to write a counselor letter when you know the student *too* well, especially when said student is also overwhelmed and stressed with their own part of the college process and their other responsibilities. Try to remember that their greatest potential in college is demonstrated on their *good* days and write from that perspective!


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#20 EKS

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 11:28 AM

My son "dropped out" of his well regarded, private IB high school in the middle of 11th grade to homeschool/dual enroll at the CC.  I had to address that decision in the counselor letter because it was visible to all.  I essentially said that he did it because of the lack of STEM opportunities at the private school.  I *didn't* say it was because he didn't like the workload.

 

Unless you're explaining a visible problem in your student's record (like less than stellar grades during a particular term), I wouldn't bring up anything negative.  Instead, I'd try to make the counselor letter about who your student *is* rather than how great he is--that way you won't feel like you need to counterbalance the greatness with something not-so-great.


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#21 Miss Mousie

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Posted 15 February 2018 - 05:14 PM

You are obligated to be honest in your application.  You are obligated to present your student in the best possible light.  (Think of it as a fiduciary responsibility.)  You are not obligated to present a confessional, describing every negative part of his personality.

 

I agree with PPs: only include anything negative if he has grown from the experience: learned from it, changed as a result, etc.  I also agree that a B does not require any additional comment.  

 

Now: focus on how your student excels!  

 

I have found it very helpful to think in this way - and it also made me think that this is how colleges present themselves, as well.  No tour guide would ever say "our dorms are good, but the food stinks" or "if you're into Romance languages, go anywhere else - our programs are the pits."

 

So, thank you, daijobu!


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#22 daijobu

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Posted 19 February 2018 - 05:05 PM

I'll go on to add that you can approach applying to a school with the assumption that the college wants to admit your student, and it is looking for reasons to do so.   Give them lots of good reasons!  


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#23 freesia

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Posted 19 February 2018 - 05:07 PM

I'll go on to add that you can approach applying to a school with the assumption that the college wants to admit your student, and it is looking for reasons to do so.   Give them lots of good reasons!  

 

I love this.


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