Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Oh, But if It Were Only So Much Fun - An Exercise in Letter Writing

Classes at Elite State U started in mid-January. A week and a half later, one of my students approached me and asked me to write a letter of recommendation for a program she wanted to apply to (that, incidentally, had to be mailed within the next 48 hours). I explained to her that it was just too early in our relationship for this big step. She seemed surprised and confided that she thought she had made “enough of an impression” on me during the three whole class sessions we’d shared to warrant a "glowing recommendation." I suggested she seek out a reference from someone who could attest to knowing her for more than a fortnight…

Just for fun, however, I decided to write the letter and submit it to RYS. Don’t misunderstand: I’m happy to write a letter of recommendation for any student who gets a B+ or better in my class and I think I write pretty zippy letters for the students who have known me for at least a semester. My hope is that this can be a warning to other students to wait at least until after mid-terms before asking a new instructor for a reference.

To Whom It May Concern:

I am thrilled to be able to write this letter of recommendation for Name Withheld. I may not know much about Ms. Withheld, but I can nonetheless strongly encourage you to admit her to your program. You may or may not be sorry if you pass up on a student like her. Although I have only known her for ten days, I can attest that Ms. Withheld looks just like all my other students. Not only that, but she usually sits near the front of the room. I know how hard it is to find warm bodies to fill those seats in the first few rows, but if she is admitted to your program, you won’t have to worry about filling one of them on most days.

I first met Ms. Withheld last Wednesday when she presented me with a sob-story about why I should disregard the waitlist and immediately enroll her in my (full) class. As sob-stories go, it was one of the better ones I’ve heard in five years of teaching. So much so that I went against my better judgment and admitted her even though she was number 23 on a 30 person waitlist. The ability to tell a convincing sob-story is a skill that Ms. Withheld will be able to use in whatever endeavor she finds herself in. I have not yet graded any of her work but I can easily say that Ms. Withheld is in the top 100% of students I have taught at Elite State U. This puts her somewhere within a very strong group and means that she will or will not be able to excel in your program.

Regardless of her inevitable success or failure, I know she is just what you are looking for. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

Very Truly Yours,
Some Department
Elite State U

P.S. She also has perfect attendance.