Letters of Recommendation Season Puts Pressure on Teacher Workload



Teachers spend many hours writing letters of recommendation

In the 2021-2022 application season, there were over six million college applications sent to schools across the nation, according to The Common Application inc. In these applications, letters of recommendation have emerged as an increasingly important part of a prospective student’s file.

“[Letters of recommendation] have become one of the primary factors for consideration,” OHS Gifted and Talented coordinator Brandy Randall said.

Data reflects this increased emphasis as well. According to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, in the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, 81% of accredited U.S. undergrad institutions attributed some measure of importance to letters of recommendation.

Many schools also require multiple letters. The top schools on the US News and World report: Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Yale, all require at least two teacher recommendations and one counselor recommendation in order for an application to be reviewed.

The high demand of the letters adds weight to the responsibilities of teachers at Orono High School. The number of requests teachers receive yearly can vary greatly. Some teachers reported yearly numbers within the 10-15 letter range, whereas others reported as many as 30 different requests in a single year.

Despite the difference in volume, writing time is generally uniform among teachers. “Writing one letter of recommendation takes probably 45 minutes to an hour,” OHS Math teacher Michelle Swenson said.

OHS teachers often end up taking these letters home, and most said that taking their letters home is the only way they can complete them on time.

“I think my husband would say that. Yeah, I have to find time to do them outside of [school hours],” OHS World History teacher Michelle Naylor said.

Various teachers have reported that when faced with an overwhelming volume of letters, the school district has offered time off to balance their workload. Although the district is able to provide a day to write and allows teachers to write during contract hours, it is not legally required to give teachers time to write. Because these letters are not recognized in the state education system, teachers also do not receive extra compensation for time spent writing these letters at home.

“[The school district] doesn’t have to do anything. Letters of rec are completely outside of the public education school system,” OHS Science teacher Bryce Rasmussen said.

Despite this, there are ways students can improve outcomes for their recommenders and themselves. Teachers cited brag sheets as helpful.

“[Brag sheets] give me some good information that I might not be able to remember from having people in class,” OHS Math teacher Jesse Allex said. MIT’s admissions website asks recommenders to write about specific instances of student motivation, engagement, competence, and leadership. Brag sheets can help teachers recall examples of these characteristics.

Other teachers also noted the importance of connecting with their students. Adding that when those interactions are not present, writing the letter can be more of a struggle, even if the student did relatively well in the class. “The letters of rec that I can personally write the best are the students who I’ve interacted with the most,” Rasmussen said.

Having adequate time between the request and the deadline can be helpful as well. Giving teachers a heads-up helps them balance their workload and limits tight deadlines. The College Board website also emphasizes early letter requests as beneficial to teachers and students. Generally, Orono teachers appreciate when students give them a month between the request time and the due date, with some requiring requests by the end of a student’s junior year.