You could argue it’s a bit early to write this for you – reminders for college applications are more than a year away – but based on what your older friends and siblings are exhibiting, I think this is something to read now, and then read again a few more times to make sure it really sinks in.
TL/DR: don’t send email reminders to staff about supporting documents. DO send them a thank you card and keep them updated on your college decisions.
Reminders for College Applications
School staff spend a lot of time trying to reinforce that the college process is focused on you – but supporting documents and letters of recommendation is the one part that we own. And here’s why you should think twice before you send an email reminder to your trusted adult.
1. We got this
For most of us writing letters, this is not our first rodeo. And just like you, your teachers and counselors and deans and coaches have different writing styles. Some of us like to write in the morning, sipping coffee. Others of us write late at night, curled up on the couch. Some of us write in bits and pieces, a sentence here and there in between classes. Others of us require total and complete silence – usually found off campus. Some of us can’t handle writing more than one letter a day, others of us prefer to power through five or more in a day. Regardless of the specifics, most of us have a working style that works – for us.
And yes, there are always people who are writing their first ever letters this year, but here is some perspective. Often these folks are closest to the college process themselves. They are often new to the field and just navigated this process as a student. Or sometimes they are coming from college admissions offices – where they had a front row seat, reading other people’s letters. But even if neither of these applies, when people do something for the first time, then tend to put their all into it. Your recommenders are very likely to do the same.
2. The time we spend reading and replying to your email is less time to write
As you have just read, we all have different working styles. Some of us have superstitions about writing only when our desk is tidied and polished to a shine. Others of us require our inbox to be at zero to turn our full attention to crafting letters. No matter what, the minute it takes to read, process and reply to your email is one less minute we have in our personal system to write what we need to write.
For much of the fall, we are immersed in college recommendations – reminders for college applications are like reminding Santa Claus to load up the sleigh. Seeing such a reminder also doesn’t leave a positive impression about you to the recommender. Do you not trust us? Have you not read our reassuring messages? Do you not listen to instructions? See #4
3. Our college and university partners will always give US the benefit of the doubt.
Let me be clear on this – colleges will likely not have the latitude to do that for YOU, unless circumstances are very extenuating. But though we work in different settings, we are colleagues. Many of us have spent at least some time on “both sides of the desk.” And if there is a technical issue, a computer glitch, a mistyped email address, or other snafu, rest assured that every admissions officer I have ever spoken with is actually also a real, live person themselves.
If the student does everything right and the school has one misstep, the college will contact the school and resolve the issue. And if the college does not have the humanity and decency to allow for an occasional, unintentional, unforeseeable human error, then maybe you should consider if that is a place you want to spend four-plus years and several thousands of dollars. Send your application when it is checked for errors and completed. Don’t wait for school documents before applying.
4. No matter what the words in your message say, what we read is “I hope you are doing your job” – (which is not what you want in your recommenders’ minds as they write!)
Whether your message is a few words typed on your iPhone or a lengthy paragraph drafted on your laptop, we are all reading the same message “in between the lines.” These seemingly innocent reminders for college applications all come across the same. And a variation of “I hope you are doing your job” or “just checking that you are actually writing this” is exactly the opposite of what you want in your recommenders’ minds as they actually write. Instead, you want them to be reflecting on your contributions to class discussions, your ability to explain concepts to peers with ease, or your fascination with amphibians or croissant-making or genealogy.
5. We got this.
Yes, I’m repeating this. Because for the past 12 years of your formal education, people like us have reminded you to study for the vocabulary quiz, to turn in your math homework, to complete the permission slip for the field trip, and to eat a healthy lunch so you don’t fall asleep in your afternoon classes. And now, for approximately 8 weeks in the fall of your senior year, you are trying to turn the tables on that narrative, with these reminders for college applications.
We know this is YOUR senior year. YOUR only application season (spoiler alert: it may not be – you might transfer, apply to study abroad, apply to grad school, med school, law school…). YOUR one chance. We get it. And because of that, we got this – we are going to write what we can to share with colleges who you are in the context of your school and community. Please allow us the time and space to do so.