Tag Archives: higher education

Tis the Season to Write Recommendation Letters

It is that time of year again.  The weather is getting cold, stores are overwhelming us with holiday items, and students are applying to graduate schools and internships.  It is recommendation letter season.  I was recently asked to serve as a recommender for two students.  One is apply to graduate school while the other is applying for Teach for America.  Of course, my goal is to help these students land the positions they want, but I cannot help my anxiety of wanting to write the best letter I can.  I began searching with my trusted friend, Google, to see if I could improve my letters for the benefit of my students.


Here are two great resources I found to write better letters:




Some themes that I always adhere to when writing recommendation letters were echoed in the abovementioned links.  My letters are structured so that it is clear how well I know the student, what their strengths are, and why I think this program or job is where they belong.  Reading these ideas on these websites calmed my fears.  My letters would not be the reason why these students were removed from the “yes” pile and moved to the trash can. 


My final thoughts on writing recommendation letters relates to how I communicate with my students.  I always ask for a detailed description of the job, school, program he or she is applying to.  I ask for a resume, personal statement, or other accompanying documents she or he is submitting so that I may discuss this student in the light that they are portraying themselves.  Finally, I ask for ample time to craft these letters with all of the materials necessary.  If letters need to be mailed, I ask for addressed envelopes with stamps attached.  I also ensure that I build writing, proofreading, and editing into my calendar so that the deadline is met with a high quality recommendation.  I hope this helps during the greatest season of the year, recommendation season!


-Michael J. Miragliotta

Rutgers University

TJA Secretary


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Do as I say, Not as I do!


By Kelly S. Hennessy

Tis the season for everyone to take a breath and reflect on the past few months.  Student affairs professionals know all too well that the months of August and September are exhausting.  In order to take a breath, I feel that a big dose of humor is needed to realize that during the months of August and September, for a great many of us, we all do things that we would never teach our students.  So please sit back, relax, and reflect with me on my many wonderful “Do as I say, Not as I do” moments from these past few months.  It is my hope that you find yourself nodding your head in agreement, as I know you find yourself in very similar situations during the beginning of the semester.

1.)    Eat healthy:  Often we teach our students about the importance of eating healthy while at college.  However, during the month of August I find that I can go 14 hours without much more than a large dose of caffeine.  (I believe that I should purchase stock in Starbucks based on the amount of coffee my staff purchase during these months.)  Or on the very next day I find that I am eating cookies for breakfast and BBQ food from an event for lunch and dinner.   Sometimes dinner is a handful of animal crackers dipped in leftover cake frosting followed by peanut M&Ms for dessert (my meager attempt at getting some protein).  Every year I find myself saying “next year I will not gain the training 15!”

2.)   Exercise regularly:  When I discuss stress with students or student staff, I often talk with them about getting out and doing something active (running, swimming, intramurals, club sports) however during the month of August and September I stay in shape carrying around several large binders (extra important workout for aging backs), props for training, materials for 3 programs or events for one day, and speed walking from one meeting to the next.  Not a typical method of exercise, but hey it works!

3.)   Live a balanced life:  I say this to my professional staff all the time, with the explanation that balance means different things to different people.  But during the month of August, balance means I will get to other things besides work in exactly 27 days.  Balance also can be interpreted more like rollover minutes. Whatever fun I would love to have during the last months of summer are saved up for the wonderful months of fall.  For every time I did not get to go to the beach in August, I will go to the pumpkin patch in October.  For every time in September I could not get off campus to get an iced hazelnut latte, I will get a warm pumpkin spice latte in October.

4.)   Plan ahead:  I am a 20 Gold (for you True Color’s professionals), which means I love check lists, planners, and everything organized.  However, during the months of August and September if I have not planned it out by the end of July, then it will not get done until the end of September.  The best example of this is that I make or buy my son’s birthday invitations in July for a middle of October birthday!  But once August hits, I feel like there are days that I am living like an undergraduate student again.  Finishing training sessions the night before, hoping that there is no huge crisis, power outage, or computer failure that will keep me from accomplishing my task that is due the next day. The non-urgent, less important tasks that aren’t as time sensitive simply get moved directly from my August “To-Do list” to the one in September–or, heck, even October.

5.)   Get enough sleep:  August and September are the months when I am most exhausted and running on empty.  I have a serious LOVE/HATE relationship with these months.  The hate stems from the fact that sleep is my best friend and I get very little of it during back to back to back 17 hour days.  This year I figured I would solve that problem and bring my favorite blanket to work, so I could catch a few ZZZZs between opening halls and Welcome Week events.  So in a way I am sort of following advice that I would give other staff.   This approach also meant that at times I would head off to a program with bed head or creases on my face from slipping in a 20 minute nap. Even after 27 long days of working it is difficult to find sleep because all of those family and friends you neglected during these months want to do fun things with you and you want to do amazing things with them.  So for me my 1st days off were spent by going camping in an RV with 8 other people, including jamming 5 kids under the age of 6 into one room.  Most people would find this exhausting and I admit it was, but balance for me was spending quality time with all the people I love.  I can sleep another day.

6.)   Try new things:  Okay, finally some advice that I do manage to do very well during August and September.  I always find that I am trying new things during this month in order to get to know my professional and student staff.  At times these new things might mean climbing up a 15 foot pole, or running around like a chicken, or some other crazy thing.  The lack of sleep often means that I don’t have the energy to say no to team building experiences that might be a little more out of my comfort zone and a little more on the embarrassing side.

7.)   Spend time with people you love:  This one makes me laugh because most student affairs professionals know the feeling of not being able to do much of anything with friends or family (beyond their immediate family) during the months of August and September.  No weddings, no funerals, no dinners out, no beach, don’t call, don’t ask, I will see you in September.  The great thing about this profession is that it draws so many wonderful people that you are surrounded by people you enjoy on a regular basis.

So although I hope that my students are learning from my words and not my actions during the busiest months of the year for student affairs professionals, I do hope that they understand that I love my job.  At the end of all this craziness the WHY is the important part that brings me back for more crazy Augusts, Septembers, and Octobers.  I know what we do has an impact on students and help them have a more enriching experience while in college, which is how I know there are so many other wonderful professionals that are also living through these crazy months… we love working hard in order to provide the best experience for our students.

Feel free to share some of the funny things that you find yourself doing during the first 3 months of the academic year!

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