Providing an edge in college admissions
Like many high school teachers, Rod Ziolkowski has spent weeks writing recommendations for his students. His letters can help make the difference between acceptance and rejection.
By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
college admissions -- 大學入學許可。 edge -- 優勢。
Related article: The Life and Work of Professor Roy Millen
Science teacher Rod Ziolkowski is spending his winter break working, just as he did Thanksgiving and practically every evening and weekend since the fall. Ziolkowski, dedicated as he is, is not preparing lesson plans but writing college recommendations for his students at Whitney High School in Cerritos. He expects to crank out 100 or more letters by the time admissions deadlines arrive in January.
"fall" 秋天，學校一般在九月初開學。"crank out" 指機械式地、快速地生產。
He has plenty of company. At public and private schools from coast to coast, teachers are engaged in one of the most time-honored but overlooked aspects of the admissions process.
A strong teacher recommendation can add flesh, bones and personality to a packet of test scores and grade point averages and convince a college admissions director that a particular student would be a valuable asset on campus.
More schools are also beginning to compensate teachers who write an inordinate number of letters, usually with a comp day. At Whitney, a foundation set up by parents and alumni pays teachers for their efforts.
Yet for most instructors, the personal time devoted to letter writing is a tough, largely unpaid part of their job. Most public and private schools have few formal guidelines, other than encouraging students to request letters well in advance (and to enlist a teacher who is likely to write something positive).
Each letter can take several hours, with the writer searching for the elusive essence of a student. The task is made harder when several students apply to the same college and ask the same teacher to write recommendations that are likely to be read by the same admissions officer.
It is that descriptive quality that catches the attention of Mary Backlund, director of admissions at Bard College, a small liberal arts campus in New Hampshire that is popular with California students. She can immediately tell the thoughtful letters from the cut-and-paste jobs from teachers who are distracted or don't know a student very well.
"I can almost read a recommendation and tell you what I'm going to do with that student," Backlund said. "A good recommendation will capture a student's intellectual skills and interests, and I don't even have to look at a student's resume."
"You try not to judge a student based on the wonderful writing ability of the teacher, but what they're saying about a student's characteristics," she said.
Like Ziolkowski, many teachers say they believe that in reality, scores and grades and other parts of the application play a more important role in admission. But he isn't complaining.
"I'm privileged to teach at a school of very capable kids who have big dreams, rather than spending this time on discipline problems or at parent conferences of disturbed kids," he said.
As he spoke recently, a stack of recommendations waited to be mailed for several of his students, including Allen Chen, 17, who is applying to several schools including Stanford, MIT, USC and Carnegie Mellon.
Chen wants to major in engineering, so Ziolkowski was a natural for a recommendation. But he's hoping the teacher will highlight his growth as a person as well as his academic record.
"I used to be a shy person and I feel like he's taught us more than physics," Chen said. I've learned to be active in class, to speak my opinion, to express my social side. I feel like he knows me best."