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The Student News Site of St. Charles North High School


The Student News Site of St. Charles North High School


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Letters of Recommendation: The Factor That can Make or Break an Application

Olivia Burgan

Letters of recommendation are necessary for many of North’s seniors applying to colleges and universities, but there is more to the process of getting one from a teacher, counselor or coach than may meet the eye. Whether it is choosing the right person to write it or asking in a certain way, recommendation letters require a lot of thought in order to pursue education, the military and sports post-high school.

A letter of recommendation is a document written by an authority figure who can attest to both your quality of work and your character. Some colleges and universities require more than others. In senior Gabby Duffin’s case, she will be attaining several letters, including from teachers and an Illinois senator, to apply to West Point, Merchant Marine and other military academies.

“Each senator can nominate five people to one Academy in a year,” said Duffin. “So let’s say I’m [applying for] the 2023 round of candidates who are going in the summer of 2024. Tammy Duckworth can nominate five people for each Academy. But [because I’m applying to] the Merchant Marines Academy in New York, [and I’m] also applying to West Point, I need two different nominations.”

The teachers, coaches, club advisors and more that a student should ask for a letter are majorly impacted by what they want to pursue in the future. For instance, someone looking for a future in sports can have a different process compared to those entering academics.

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“[For students] who are going to play for athletics, it’s going to be multiple conversations over the course of [what could be] three years with the school on just the character, the development of that player, the person that’s doing it,” said Rob Pomazak, football head coach and physical education teacher.

When writing a letter of recommendation, teachers try to address a variety of factors that are important to how someone operates in the world, even when they have a limited point of view.

“I only know their strengths academically, and for most students, I’ve only had them for one year, which really isn’t a huge chunk of time to get to know [them]. So for me, it’s usually academic strengths, the way they interact with other people. Maybe they’re resilient or persevere, how they can kind of push through some struggles academically and just overall how they are as a person,” said Jarrod Ragusin, science teacher. “If they arrive on time, if they treat others kindly, things like that.”

Finding the right teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation can be tricky, meaning respectful decisions and the right choices can make all the difference.

“I have not [rejected a request] but whenever a student asks me for a letter of recommendation, the one thing I always tell them is that I am going to be honest,” said Ragusin. 

More often than not, teachers will agree to write a recommendation letter for a student, but they are always going to be truthful in their writing. When choosing a teacher to ask for a letter of recommendation, it can be helpful for a student to have a good relationship with them, and to ask teachers who teach a class the student excels or wants to major in.

Recommendation letters are personal. Students should make sure when asking a teacher, it’s respectful and understanding of the time they are taking out of their day to write a tailored letter. 

“If you can, don’t just send an email, go out of your way to their office, ask them very nicely and just say ‘you know what, I really enjoyed your class, thank you for the opportunity,’” said Duffin. “It’s just all about understanding that teachers are real people, they have time, too, and they have to come to those time restraints where it’s a letter, one to two pages”. 

Asking for college recommendation letters can be scary, but being honest and understanding with teachers can give students the best outcome when applying to colleges and post high school life.

Teachers need time and helpful tips on what to include, to make the outcome of the letter as stress free for both the student and the teacher. When looking for something specific in a letter of recommendation, students should ensure specifications are presented to the writer prior.

“It’s your letter of recommendation,” said Pomazak. “It’s your future. Take the bull by the horns and be direct.” 

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About the Contributors
Melanie Jandura
Melanie Jandura, Editor-In-Chief
Melanie is the News Editor for the Stargazer. She is a junior and has been on the staff since 2021. Melanie engages in student journalism because she wants others to know about different topics around the school and community.
Lizzy Medina
Lizzy Medina, Staff Writer/Media Team
Lizzy is a member of both the writing and media team for the Stargazer. She is a Senior and this is her first year on staff.
Olivia Burgan
Olivia Burgan, Media Team
Olivia is a staff photographer for the Stargazer. She is a Junior and this is her first year on staff.

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