What You Need To Know About Private School Recommendation Letters

Most private elementary schools don’t require letters of recommendation as part of the application process. So why are parents are calling in favors from friends and colleagues asking them to recommend their kids for admission to super-competitive schools?

As my co-author, Porcha Dodson, tells families, “In my previous job as a private school admissions administrator, when I’d read one family’s admissions file containing a glowing letter from someone connected to the school and then another file without any letters, I’d give the file with the letters a much closer look. Especially if the letter came from one of our school’s parents or board members.”

Here’s what you need to know about recommendation letters:

1. Letters of recommendation are only helpful if the person writing the letter knows the admissions director, the head of school or a board member or someone else at the school. If the person writing the letter is, for example, your congressman, but they don’t know anyone at the school, that letter won’t be very effective.

2. Who should write your letters of recommendation? Current parents at the school are a great option. They are in the best position to let the school know you’re a family with a child who will fit in well at the school. They can also walk the letter into the admissions director’s office or send a quick email that is just as meaningful. However, if a parent tells you they aren’t in good standing with the school, don’t have them send a letter on your behalf. Board members are also an obvious choice. But, not everyone knows a board member and some people on the board don’t write letters to avoid conflicts of interest.

3. Letters can be on the writer’s letterhead, sent by email or even a handwritten note. Whatever form is easiest for the person who is gracious enough to help you is what you should aim for.

4. A great letter of recommendation should include enough detail so the school knows the person writing it truly knows your family. Specifics about how long the person writing the letter has known your family, how you know each other, a few words about your kid and most importantly, why your child and your family will be an excellent fit at the school are all important to include.

5. Expect that some people you ask to write a letter are busy and will ask you to draft the letter for them to sign. We have sample letters of recommendation in our book.

6. Don’t be offended if you ask someone to write a letter for you and he/she politely declines or makes up an excuse about why they can’t do it. This happens and it isn’t personal. Sometimes the person is already writing letters for other families. Or, they may be in a dispute with the school and don’t feel comfortable doing it.

7. If you don’t know anyone to ask for a letter, that’s fine too. You don’t need letters for your child to be accepted. You may also consider asking your preschool director about families who attended the preschool and are now at a school where you’re applying. Consider calling the parent and explaining that you’re currently at the same preschool and would like their advice about applying. Or, offer to take them to coffee. The fact that your kids attended the same preschool can be a great connection.

8. Some schools don’t accept letters of recommendation. Make sure to check the school’s website before you start having people you know send the school letters!