An Outside Letter of Reference

This is the third in a series of posts about how a homeschooling student can put together a persuasive college application.  In this series, I talk about

• Standardized Tests
• Outside Letter of Reference
• Letter of Reference from a Parent
• Transcripts
• Student essay
• Some general things to keep in mind

This time, my topic is the letter of reference.  And to begin, I want to urge you to get one letter of reference from the “outside,” that is, from someone who only worked with the student in a professional capacity—not Mom or Dad or the neighbor.

Of course, to get such a letter of reference your student will have to have some kind of out-of-the-home experience, but I have found that this is a good thing to do anyway.  It’s a great confidence booster.  My wife came from a family of very gifted children, and comparing herself with her brothers she thought that she was probably not smart enough to go to college.  One semester at the local community college cured her of that illusion!  And then as a bonus, it does also open up the possibility of an outside letter of reference.

A letter from outside the family offers a college admissions committee a couple of advantages that Mom’s letter can’t match.  First, someone who teaches in a high school or a college can recommend the applicant based on a comparison with a much larger group.  Mom may home school a dozen kids, but someone who teaches in an institution will have taught several hundred or even a thousand children, and it sets that teacher up to make some strong statements for the applicant.  Consider this line from a real letter of reference:  “I have taught in a variety of educational settings: public, private, and home school at both secondary and elementary levels.  Rarely have I taught a student who is this capable on all fronts.”  That is a phenomenal witness!

A second advantage the outside letter of reference bring is, for lack of a better word, objectivity.  Even though Dad or Mom may succeed in being brutally honest about their child, the admission committee members know in the back of their minds that the parent writing the recommendation letter stands to benefit if the student is accepted.  When the letter comes from someone who has only known the student in a professional capacity, that person doesn’t stand to win or lose by the student’s acceptance.  Whether or not it’s fair, the admissions committee will feel that this is a more objective testimony.

But if you can’t get an outside letter of reference, don’t despair.  Even if you can get an outside letter of reference, it’s still a good idea to have Mom or Dad write one, because the parents have one advantage no one else can match.  In the next post, I’ll explain what that advantage is.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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