You’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a military college application. You write dozens of letters each week. This one should be no problem, right?
You check the student’s cumulative record and click your letter template open, ready to tout a stellar GPA and involvement in sports. But a question creeps into your head: Is this enough? Am I hitting the points reviewers want to know about? How can I improve my student’s chances?
Competition for admission into military academies is among the stiffest in the nation. Your student may be a standout in your school, but will look “normal” among peer applicants. Your letter could make the difference.
We asked members of review committees what makes one recommendation more effective than another. They offered these four important tips.
1. Focus on leadership.
Ashley Collier, academy coordinator for Maryland’s Representative Roscoe Bartlett’s office says that leadership is probably the most important factor to highlight. But before you list ASB president, mock trial prosecutor and science bowl captain, consider specific examples that show how the student has been an effective leader.
How do the student’s peers respond to his/her leadership?
How would you describe the student’s leadership style?
What project or accomplishment displays these traits and why? What were the results?
2. Know your student.
Counselors in large high schools may be responsible for hundreds of students. It’s nearly impossible to know every one. If you’ve been asked to write a letter for a student you don’t know well, wait. Collier suggests that “nine times out of ten, [not knowing the student] will be reflected in the recommendation.”
Make an appointment to interview the student. Ask the student to convince you why you should make a recommendation. Look for characteristics that impress you and clarify accomplishments with details and specifics. Better yet, find a school official who is more familiar with the student and offer to help them write a letter.
3. Be original and specific.
An original letter is always best. Lt. Col. Amy M. Meeks, associate director of admissions for West Point Military Academy says her office receives many letters that are so generic, it appears only a name has been changed. Template letters won’t work with stakes this high. Reviewers want to know this student is enough of a star to warrant your time to write this letter.
Lt. Col. Meeks also says letters highlighting a specific act that displays maturity and ambition get more attention than those without details. She also suggests comparing the student to the 500 students you’ve worked with in your career, for instance, and telling why this one stands out.
4. Check the branch.
While each of the five military colleges share a common goal, each is attached to their differences. Double check your student’s intended college and be sure to refer to it correctly. Nothing is worse than telling the Air Force Academy admissions office how your student will succeed in the Navy.
Your recommendation is just one piece of your student’s complicated military college application process. But that doesn’t mean it is not important. On the contrary, Lt. Col. Meeks assures us that all letters are really read, and well-written ones can and do make a difference.