It’s bad when you encounter this type of person at the grocery store. It’s worse still when they marry into your family. But perhaps the very worst way you can interact with these wretched creatures is by asking them to write your college letter of recommendation.
You can’t have known the deep hatred for you that has been burning like magma within these teachers and advisers, or you never would have gone within ten feet of them. You probably liked them. You probably assumed the feeling was mutual.
I’m sure it was all they could do to keep from giggling when they told you that they’d recommended you with the highest praise. And you, poor soul, had no reason to doubt their word. How surprised you’d be, then, if you knew that they had instead made a very compelling case to us that you ritualistically torture baby seals every Tuesday night, and provided convincing flowcharts that prove that you are the sole cause of global warming.
That being said, most bad letters aren't actually crafted in spite. They’re usually written by well-meaning favorite teachers who had no intention whatsoever of ruining your hopes and dreams. But, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men, they love you so fiercely that they squish you to pulp in the vise-like grip of their good intentions. They innocently assume we must be omniscient enough to know all of your past transgressions, and—in an effort to assure us that you aren’t actually the degenerate that you appear to be—proceed to give us an exhaustive list of every reason not to let you in.
|I jus' wrote the bestest recommendation ever!|
It is therefore important to make sure that you vet the teachers and advisors that you ask to write your letter of recommendation. Make sure that they actually like you. Make sure that you earned high marks (and worked diligently to earn those marks) in their class. Try to finagle some way to see their letter before they send it. If you can’t, try to give them some hints as to what they might put in it (or direct them to this post...)
If you don’t, you might get this:
[Quoted directly from the worst letter of recommendation we've ever received (names were changed). It's real. Seriously. We couldn't make something like this up. Our comments are in red.]
"Office Of Admission: University of Marymount [You got the name of our college wrong in the salutation. …This should be good.]
Student Recommendation Letter: John Stabdinback
To whom it may concern,
He’s not the most gifted athlete at our school; yet, he played on a nationally ranked football team. He’s not the most academically inclined student; yet, he chose a high-end college prep. school to attend. He’s not the best looking, the most talented, and he’ll certainly never be elected homecoming king [he sounds dreamy!]. So exactly who, or what, is he? [Sasquatch?]
I met Mr. Stabdinback two years ago in my tenth grade Poetry class […not at all surprised that he teaches poetry. Not even a little tiny bit]. He seemed somewhat academically talented, but lazy as the Mississippi is muddy. [I'm no expert, but I believe that's pretty muddy.] He struggled by with very little effort and seemed dedicated to doing his very least to get the very most. It didn’t work [shocking], and he ended up in summer school with me. [*evil cackle*] Under my direction…he began to see himself as someone who was up to the task of intense grammatical studies, reading a book a week (with quizzes every day), and deciphering the meaning of text without Cliff Notes [Actually, he most likely used Sparknotes.].
It was my great pleasure to see that he had been placed into my class his Jr. Year, so I could see if his effort continued from the summer or if he had failed to keep the momentum [*evil cackle redux*]. He was still “classic John,” a little lazy most of the time, though his effort had increased along with his understanding of the text, vocabulary, and grammar.
…So why recommend him to you? Well, I thought you would probably be reading many letters about students who are God’s second coming [Now that you mention it, I do have a letter from the Messiah right here on my desk!] so I thought I would do something a little different with my letter [How creative of you...] and introduce you to a student more base and earthy [like, uh, a potato]. He’s who he is, he’ll work hard for the Professors at your fine University and make both himself, his family, and his High School proud of him [You taught him grammar? *Face palm*] Much like David, the young shepherd in the Bible [Wait, so, he is a biblical character, then?], this young man has his slingshot and his stone and is aiming them at your school [...Should we duck and cover?]. Give him that chance in a million [Oh, don’t be so generous!] to be who he’s going to be [Don’t you mean, “what”?] at the University of Marymount [University? Twice? Really?].”
Bart [Filled-with-seething-hatred-for-my-students] Pike
Another couple of gems:
o “Sure, Alex may be the worst student in my class and near the bottom 5% of our prestigious school, but it is with upmost confidence that I say that he would be perfect for your university.” [Aww! Thanks!]
o “She struggled mightily with her academics, and probably always will.” [Wow. That’s exactly what we look for!]
o “I do not know the student personally, but I am sure that they might have some sort of impact on your school.” [I can say with some confidence that you may or may not have made any sort of statement with that sentence.]
o “I have no idea why I was the person she asked to write this letter.” [We, too, are at a loss.]
o “[Student’s name misspelled] is one of my favorite students.” [Clearly.]
o “James is an exemplary student. She has consistently earned top marks in my class and always takes an active role in discussion.” [Does James know that you think he’s a girl?]