Oh, Those Letters

 

A letter I wrote for a friend last year

Letters of recommendation are a part of the “hidden” rules of the admissions game for many families applying to L.A. private elementary schools. They are part of the culture at certain schools. Other schools frown upon them.

 

When you’ve decided where you will be applying, you may want to ask people you know to write letters for your family. These are most meaningful coming from people who have a connection to the school. In other words, a current parent, alumni family or a board member, even a teacher.

 

Asking someone you know really well (or hardly at all) can be difficult. What will they say? What’s the best way to ask? Will they offer so you don’t have to ask? All these questions may be floating around in your mind. At least they were for me when I found out that people used letters of recommendation to help their applications. At that point, it was February and I had to scramble to get letters for the schools where we applied. We ended up getting letters for two of the three schools where my daughter applied (and was accepted- Willows and Wildwood). We didn’t have any letters for Oakwood School, but she still got in.

 

Sometimes, you have to ask when you have the opportunity. In person, by email, a phone call. It all works!

 

Along the way, I learned a few things about those letters:

 

  • Some people will gladly write you a wonderful, glowing letter of recommendation.
  • A few people will never return your call or email
  • Certain people will ask you for more information about your child
  • If someone asks you to write the letter for them to sign, do it! (Samples are in our book)
  • A lot of excuses about “not knowing” your family means they don’t want to write the letter
  • A conversation with the admissions director on your behalf may be preferred over a letter. That’s good too!
  • If a person says they are having issues with their school and it’s not a good time for them to be writing a letter, trust them.
  • Be prepared for rejection! It happens, but it’s not personal.
  • Be prepared for generosity and helpfulness. It just might be personal

 

 

 

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Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of a daughter (15) and a son (12) who attend Viewpoint School in Calabasas. I live in Coldwater Canyon with my family and a rescue pit bull, Cocoa. Contact me at csimon2007@gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Oh, Those Letters

  1. I’d never write my own letter of rec and have someone sign it! I’ve had that offered though. If I can’t find someone to write it’s time to re-evaluate (me or them). Maybe I’m old-fashioned? Aging poorly? Both?

  2. Great advice, Christina! When my daughter was applying to a particular middle school, a board member from the school, who I knew, offered to write a letter which I declined, because I knew she wrote them for everyone. Also, just because someone is on the board, doesn’t mean they’re well regarded by the admissions director. You really have to know who you’re asking.

  3. Great information, as usual. I honestly don’t know how people go it alone with this stuff! There is so much to consider and you guys are such an amazing resource for so many families. Great work.

  4. When we were applying to private schools for kindergarten, we found just the right person to write one for us. I know it must have helped in my son getting accepted. Friends who take the time to write these letters are special people.

    Thanks for all the great tips Christina Simon! You are a life saver for LA Moms.

  5. Okay, so I’m procrastinating because right now I should be writing our family essays… you know the ones where the parents talk about why they love the school and in case I haven’t mentioned it 902830438 times I HATE WRITING.

    I’m hopeful that no one ever asks me to write one of these letters because I’m totally phone call mom.

  6. Get this…I had a friend ask her “best” friend to write a letter of recommendation for her and the woman said “no” because she didn’t want her daughter to have to compete with my friend’s daughter for a spot – even though her older kid was already at the school. Maybe these letters talk about the “child” but the recommendation letter process says SO much about the person who’s “writing” it. Great piece.

  7. Such an INTEGRAL component of the elementary school admissions process – not one to be taken frivolously. A bad recommendation letter is like a lead sinker in your application.

    So glad you’ve mapped out this process for families (especially the part about tailoring your expectations and managing ‘rejection’).

    Fab post!

  8. Letters may be important, but I wanted to offer comfort to families who don’t have the contacts to get them. Last year, when we got our son into kindergarten at an exclusive Westside private school, we didn’t know a soul who went there. No one connected with the school called or wrote letters on our behalf. We aren’t celebrities, we aren’t members of any minority group, and we are not incredibly wealthy — we are just a normal Westside family. And, we got in (and are incredibly happy there now).

    Conversely, we did NOT get into the school where a board member made calls on our behalf or the school where two close family friends are major alumni and donors. Go figure.

  9. I think this is such an important post and something we definitely considered in our application process. Asking for letters of recommendations is so complex and as someone else mentioned in the comments above, it really does shine a light on the friendship you may have with the person you asked for a letter from.

    I have to say it was incredibly nice to hear from one of our friends that she would be happy to write us a letter (and a wonderful letter I must say), but it was even nicer to hear from her that she totally understood if in the end we decided NOT to send our kids to the school which she was writing the letter for. It’s such a delicate discussion but one that would be so helpful to have when you are requesting the letters.

    In the end, we got letters from one or two people we knew very well, but people we didn’t know that well also happily wrote letters for us. I made the request and spent some time with them talking about our philosophy on education and parenting so that they felt they could authentically write us a letter. Also, in the simple act of discussing the application process I came to find out that a dear friend who is much older than I am had sent all 5 of her children to our first choice school. I would never have thought to ask but she offered to write for us.

    In reference to Leslie, the last woman who commented, we, too are not celebrities, not incredibly wealthy and not members of any minority group and it’s absolutely possible to get in without letters. In our case, of the 4 schools we applied to, the only one we DIDN’T get into was the one where we had no letters!

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