Current and former students often ask me to write them letters of recommendation for various things and I typically say yes. As I’ve said in the past, when writing these letters it is helpful to know what students are saying in any required statements so that I can ensure my own statements support those points. The only problem with this is that students often provide me with these materials after they have been submitted to the organization in question, even though I would classify the quality of their work in these statements as rough at best.
One might think that students who are attempting to obtain an internship, scholarship, or entrance to a graduate program might put more effort into the required personal statements than they would a brief class assignment, but this does not appear to be the case. This is not entirely the fault of students, since most of them are not trained in this form of writing and they might not feel like they have a go-to person to answer their questions (unlike a class assignment). Nevertheless, they should still assume that things like proofreading and the use of paragraphs and specific examples will strengthen their arguments that they should receive an internship, scholarship, or entrance to a graduate program.
As a writer of letters of recommendation, low-quality personal statements also put me in a difficult position. Obviously, I want to support my students and help them become successful. On the other hand, it is difficult to make a strong argument that a student was among my best or was a good writer or whatever other seemingly-arbitrary characteristics institutions say they care about when the student’s personal statement looks like it was written in fifteen minutes and then edited by a cat sitting on the student’s keyboard. In the future, I might need to request that in the future students provide me with a draft of their personal statements and allow me to help guide them through the process of revising and editing it as a condition of writing a recommendation.
I might not have the code that will allow all of their applications to be successful, but I’ve got to be a better editor than their cats.
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