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Cupcake's avatar

How would you address your child's teacher who hasn't submitted a letter of recommendation for their college application?

Asked by Cupcake (15492points) March 13th, 2014

Your kid applied to college in December. This teacher has been a mentor and very involved in your kid’s life. In addition, they give your kid music lessons outside of school (although the teacher cancelled lessons before each college audition, causing your kid a lot of anxiety and feelings of rejection). Your kid wants to study music. At every college audition, they have to talk about their private lessons teacher. But the guy never submitted a letter of recommendation. Your kid reminded them every month or so… but you just checked and there is no letter.

Does the guidance counselor bear any responsibility here?

Could a lack of recommendation from the music teacher have been a factor for the school that just sent a rejection letter?

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30 Answers

muppetish's avatar

My sympathies :( What a crappy situation.

Letters of recommendation are voluntary, and I don’t know that a school can hold the instructor accountable. When the instructor is independent of an institution, I think that they might feel even less of an obligation to follow through. I’m not sure how I would personally address this situation, as I am not a parent. As a student, I would be devastated though. I certainly wouldn’t want to continue investing my time with an instructor who doesn’t believe in me.

I’m not sure how the guidance counselor may be involved in this situation. Can you shed some light on that inquiry?

It’s possible that the lack of a recommendation played a role, but it also could have many different variables. Did they have enough letters from other faculty members and mentors to meet the minimum requirement without this specific instructor’s contribution? Although the music instructor’s letter may have been a huge help, if their other letters were also good then it’s possible that the letters weren’t the only problem.

Students can get rejected for all sorts of reasons, ranging from availability to spots to the strength of personal statement. It couldn’t hurt for the student to e-mail the admissions committee and ask if they can disclose why they were rejected.

Cupcake's avatar

@muppetish There were not enough letters without this teacher. Isn’t it the guidance counselor’s job to gather the teacher’s recommendations and make sure the application is complete? She is the one who informed me that the letter was missing when I inquired today.

gailcalled's avatar

As a parent, I would be outraged. I would have been on thie teacher after month one. The missed lessons are also unforgiveable.

Did your child tell his guidance counselor about the music teacher’s cavalier behavior? Is the music teacher part of your school system? If not, then it is your and your child’s responsibility. Outside recommendations do not normally fall within the guidance counsellor’s general purview.

Why did you let so much time pass? Have you confronted the music instructor? Have you fired him?

Muppetish’s comments on the variables involved in acceptance and rejection are true.

JLeslie's avatar

If you believe the teacher truly wants to make the recommendation, but has been lazy about it, you can offer too write it up yourself and send it to her. She can change anything she likes and then sign it.

Cupcake's avatar

I just found out!! I assumed all was in.

The teacher teaches at the kid’s school, as well as gives private lessons outside of school.

I emailed the teacher today. My words felt harsh to me, but my husband thought I could have said much, much more.

I am well aware that there are probably other factors in the rejection. I am just wondering if a school would reject a student due to an incomplete application, especially a music student missing their music teacher’s letter of recommendation.

gailcalled's avatar

I would confront this teacher face-to-face. He deserves very harsh words; let him understand the implications of his sloppiness. The minute he (as an adult) agreed to write the recommedation, he had an obligation.

I would also tell him that you are passing on this eggregious behavior to the chairman of the music department or the dean of the faculty or whoever his supervisor is.

Hard to know what each individual admissions office staff would think. You might try to contact one of them; their general view is that it is the responsiblity of the parent and child (and advisor) to make sure the application is complete.

Has your child had some acceptances?

muppetish's avatar

@Cupcake Your child’s school may operate different from my high school. The guidance counselors had no authority or influence over our applications. Students were required to compile everything on their own and submit on their own. We had to contact the college ourselves to inquire about the status of our applications.

If the guidance counselors at the high school has more control at you child’s school, then I would definitely involve them in this conversation about why they did not contact you or your child sooner especially since they should be aware of when deadlines end (they should have ended months ago! There’s no excuse for this.)

I think it’s important to arrange to meet with the teacher in person in addition to sending the e-mail. It’s all too easy for the instructor to just ignore the e-mail and remain silent. If the instructor acts dodgy, then I would get the principal involved.

It’s definitely possible that an incomplete application would be rejected—especially if it was to an impacted major or a school that received several applications a year. One of my PhD applications was rejected because my transcript didn’t make it on time. $90 down the toilet.

Cruiser's avatar

I would contact this teacher directly and approach him by saying you are reaching out to him to obtain a letter of recommendation for your son who is in the process of applying to colleges. Acknowledge this teaches contribution in the progress your son made in music and that his words will play a crucial role in your son getting into the college of his choice. Then tell him you will be glad to come and pick up the letter.

dxs's avatar

If your son didn’t get accepted, I hate to say it but I think that’s that. Music schools may be different, but for what it’s worth, I got accepted into two colleges without a letter of recommendation from a teacher. Both were private schools. My guidance counselor had written one, however.
(I felt terrible because the teacher who I asked to write the letter was dealing with her mom who was dying. I had no idea of this, but eventually I saw that the letter was submitted. She actually ended up leaving half way through the school year to look after her mom).

If it were me, I would have taken control for myself without letting my parents intervene since I believe it is my responsibility. Your son can call the admissions office or whoever may be in charge of this and talk it over with them.

dappled_leaves's avatar

What @dxs said. Making sure that letters of recommendation arrive is the responsibility of the student. Teachers are notoriously unreliable at submitting these on time – your child’s situation is not unique. It is the student’s job to keep in touch with the person assembling their file, to make sure that it is complete by the deadline.

If, for some bizarre reason, you’ve taken it upon yourself to be responsible for the application instead of your son or daughter, then you also take on the responsibility of ensuring that the letters arrive by the deadline. If the application is not complete, admissions will not chase after anyone to remind them of their responsibilities. The same rules apply for scholarship applications.

It’s brutal, but knowing what is required for the application and doing what is necessary to get it done is considered to be a part of the competition too. The students who completed the task are evaluated for admission. And that’s that.

Personally, I would not admonish the teacher for not writing the letter. Teachers are not required to write these! And even if they agree to, they are not required to write a favourable letter.

If you want the teacher to write a good reference in future, you will want to keep things friendly. And if you don’t, what does it matter why they did not respond to this request?

creative1's avatar

Its not mandatory for a teacher to write a recommendation letter, maybe your child should find another teacher to write said letter

Pandora's avatar

Have you child ask the teacher if they would mind writing the recommendation this week, but that if they have too many irons in the fire and cannot, then he could ask some other teacher. This may guilt the teacher into either taking action or at least your child will know where he stands and may have time to approach another teacher.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Cupcake I hear your anguish. I have a child who is a high school senior now, and she is applying and interviewing for colleges. It’s quite stressful.

She is also spending a lot of time writing essays for scholarship applications. The thought of paying for college just adds to the stress.

While teachers are not required to write any recommendations for students, if this particular one agreed to do so and then failed to follow through, I would agree with @gailcalled that there should be consequences. The least you can do is withdraw your child from this teacher’s private lessons.

If you take such a course of action, I would make it clear in a face-to-face conversation exactly why you are withdrawing your child from the teacher’s lessons. Your child deserves better.

gailcalled's avatar

In my14 year’s experience, any teacher, when asked, has two choices. One is to say that s/he is unable to write the recommendation (for whatever reason). This may be construed as unkind but is fair.No teacher would ever agree to write a bad (or even guarded) recommendation.

I cannot also imagine any scenario where a student would ask a faculty member to write if there were any question of it being less-than-supportive. That is what “recommendation” means.

If the teacher agrees to write the recommendation, he is honorbound to do so, absent some catastrophe such as a heart attack or compassionate leave.

No adulr on-staff can, honorably, agree to do so and then not bother.

Stinley's avatar

I agree with @JLeslie . Write the letter yourself and get the teacher to sign it. Send it off to all the colleges that have replied or not with an explanation of what has happened.

@gailcalled and @dxs may also have a point that there is something else going on in the teacher’s life

gailcalled's avatar

I thought that I was finished here, but a parent must never write a recommendation and then have the teacher sign it. Any teacher would understand the inappropriateness of this, vetted or not. An admissions office staff member would look on that with real horror; it would give the high school a black mark also.

JLeslie's avatar

I said the teacher would have opportunity to edit it. It would not be on paper, it would be on the computer. I only suggested it as a way to make it easier for the teacher if they were having trouble getting around to it, and it is if and only of the teacher had agreed to write a recommendation. Maybe just offer it to the teacher as an option, they can decide whether to take the parent up on it.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@gailcalled I have spoken to many an academic who has described a situation in which the student thought far more of themselves than the prof did. When a student asks for a reference letter (which is usually the term – in place of “letter of recommendation”), there is no guarantee whatsoever that the prof will write a favourable letter. The prof’s highest duty is to their own field. If they do not feel that the student has earned a place among the candidates, they will be utterly honest about that.

For my own part, my approach would be to advise the student that I am not the best choice of referee for them, and I would explain why. I agree with you that it is the honourable thing to do. But some profs have vehemently disagreed with me on this point – to them, it is better that they write the bad letter (where a bad letter can consist of a lukewarm “Yes, this person was my student”), to give a better student the opportunity. The student needs to factor in that kind of variability in attitude when asking for a letter.

It would be nice to think that having a prof agree to write a letter of recommendation is enough. It’s not. The student needs to be sure of their relationship with that prof, and the student needs to ask whether it will be a good letter. It’s important.

gailcalled's avatar

@dappled_leaves: I am referring only to high school teachers.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@gailcalled I realize this, but the my more general point still stands: the student is not automatically entitled to a good letter, and cannot know for certain that he will get a good letter.

Students make assumptions about this at their own risk – I am simply saying that the risk must be weighed before asking, and that there are no grounds to try to “hold the teacher accountable” if the letter request does not lead to the student’s desired result.

janbb's avatar

@dappled_leaves Agree, but there should have been a letter written once the teacher committed to it.

I suspect the teacher recommendation is not an overwhelming factor in admissions criteria, though, since the admissions staff know that msot letters will glowingly praise the candidate.

@Cupcake Did you son have to have an audition for the program?

gailcalled's avatar

Writing a compelling and interesting letter of recommendation is an art form in itself. How to keep it to one page and and also wake up the admissions staff who are snoozing over folders at 3:00 AM? (And if you’re really on a roll, make them laugh.)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Cupcake My daughter, a high school senior, is working diligently at being accepted to the top schools in her field of study, which is also a creative one like music. The admissions process is treacherously competitive. One of her top choices accepts only 30% of applicants.

Some schools have not asked for letters of recommendation, because they know already such letters will all be uniformly favorable. I suspect these letters factor less in the admissions process than we suspect.

I still say if the teacher verbally committed to write a letter, the teacher should be held accountable for his/her failure to follow through. This lack is really awful.

How is the process going with other choices of colleges?

Haleth's avatar

The teacher should write the letter if they agreed to, because that’s the right thing to do. But ultimately the college application process is the student’s responsibility. If this teacher isn’t writing the letter, the student needs to find someone else who will write one.

The talk above about guidance counselors and consequences is foolish. It’s a lot like when parents argue with teachers about their kids’ grades. Applying for college is a lot like the job market. A couple years from now, the same kid is going to have to look for a job. There won’t be parents or guidance counselors looking over their shoulder to make sure everything is in order.

@Hawaii_Jake “I suspect these letters factor less in the admissions process than we suspect.” I think you’re right. Recommendation letters basically say the same thing. Students can really stand out through their academic records and especially the essay. It’s the only part of the whole process where their personality shines through. When my generation were looking for colleges, most people wasted it on stuff like “where I went for summer vacation” or “I spent a few weeks building houses with Habitat for Humanity.” That doesn’t say anything about who you are as a person. I saw so many bland, insipid essays, and it’s a total waste, because it basically lets you talk to the admissions officers. It’s a chance to win them over.

Cupcake's avatar

I just want to add a couple of points (to beat this thing to death).

- I live in a poor, urban school district with a 4 year graduation rate of 43%. Especially in a failing district such as this, the few students who are prepared to graduate and are applying for college should get the full support and guidance of their teachers, counselors and administrators. This is a district where many of the parents did not go to college. Many who at least started college went to the local community college and, thus, did not have to take SATs and get letters of recommendation (I am one of these parents. I have not ever been through this process myself). In my opinion, the school should be bending over backwards and helping these kids every step of their college application process.

- It seems to me (as an uninformed outsider) that in this small “local” music community, the recommendation of a well-regarded musician/teacher is very important.

- If a letter of recommendation is required and is not submitted, then the application is incomplete and the student will not be accepted. I think that was the point I was trying to get to. Of course he got rejected because the teacher didn’t submit a letter… it was a required part of the application. I don’t mean to imply that he would have been accepted had the letter been submitted.

- This is just one of many BS things this teacher has done to my son. It felt like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Cupcake's avatar

The good news is that the kid is going to college. And he will be studying music. Just not at this more highly regarded school.

@Hawaii_Jake Eastman School of Music Jazz Studies has a 10% acceptance rate. Can you imagine? 30% sounds great in comparison! I hope your daughter is excited and pleased with her plans for the fall. :)

dxs's avatar

@Cupcake Congrats! Beginning the pursuit is definitely something to be proud of.
For the places I applied, the letter of recommendation did not have to be submitted by the deadline. Anyways, it bothers me that there’s a careless teacher in that kind of environment. Those areas are in need of most the help and this is another reason I want to become a teacher (for schools in like conditions).

JLeslie's avatar

@dxs Maybe the teacher’s failure to help you explains part of the reason the graduation rate is so low.

I have said many times here that if monies are limited, and of course they are, that money should be spent on high school students not 4 year olds (head start programs). High school is when children are most vulnerable for many reasons to becoming disinterested in school and dropping out. Moreover, I think schools should be helping kids research colleges, visit campuses and vocational schools (field trips) and fill out college applications. Children who have parents who never went to college are at a disadvantage in that college has its own system, jargon, and it is like a separate unfamiliar world for children to begin with, let alone if their parents are learning about it right along with them. Some children don’t even have parents who help either because they just don’t, or because they feel it is their child’s responsibility. Our high schools sorely miss the mark in guiding students to tertiary education. We focus on the actual academics when we talk about it, about being prepared for college and life, but the step by step and becoming familiar with college and colleges is just as important.

All the best to your son!

dxs's avatar

@JLeslie Did you mean to address @Cupcake?
I agree that education is extremely important and should be funded more, especially the middle school and high school level. I’m not even done with college and I think it is a really important part of my life.

JLeslie's avatar

@dxs Yes I did. I must have clicked on you by mistake and I didn’t catch it. Thanks.

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