The Value of Alumni References on College Applications

The Value of Alumni References on College Applications

Let’s say Yale is your child’s dream. And what luck, your best friend happens to be an alumna and annual donor!

Maybe she’d be willing to write one of your child’s letters of recommendation. Could this high-profile connection push his or her application over the edge?

The short answer is: Possibly. But it’s not as straightforward as you may think. Here are a few things you should take into account before going down this poorly lit road:

  1. No student is admitted who could potentially harm the school’s reputation or rankings. This means no matter the strength of the connection or the content of the letter, if the student’s test scores, etc. are so low that they would bring down the overall student profile (and this does happen), the student will most likely not be admitted.
  2. There is no way to fake a connection. I see thousands of letters in a single cycle, and it is painfully obvious when I get a letter from someone who has no direct connection to the applicant.
  3. Most schools are straightforward about who they want to write letters of support, and in general with applications, concision is key. Adding many supporting materials, like extra letters of recommendation, makes your student’s application burdensome to review. If the letter doesn’t add anything to the application besides highlighting that you have powerful friends, you may be harming your child more than helping.

But maybe you don’t think the above concerns apply to you. Maybe your friend isn’t just an alumna, but also sits on the Board of Trustees! That’s too good to pass up, right?

Maybe! But make sure you understand everything that goes along with a letter of recommendation before you submit one. Your friend may be contacted to provide additional information and give context to the relationship; your child may be asked to quantify that relationship in an interview. If all he or she can say is “Yeah, that’s my mom’s friend,” it’s probably not going to help.

Ultimately, I would leave this decision up to your child. Talk to him or her about the application and what he or she feels are its strengths and weaknesses. That conversation will help you assess whether an additional letter is necessary. And remember, each piece of an application should showcase something new and speak to the overall strength of the applicant. Would this letter offer new information? Is this person able to articulate in a unique way why your child is a good fit? If yes, then go for it! If not, focus on helping your student with other parts of the application to create the strongest candidacy possible.

Looking for advice on the college application process? Contact us to speak to one of our admissions consultants today!

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Joshua Mauro

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