At the beginning of the school year, counselors have much to worry about, from scheduling to planning and, most importantly, writing recommendation letters for those applying to colleges. Though this time of year is stressful for MVHS seniors, it also proves to be a stressful time for school counselors.
Recommendation letters which accompany the Secondary School Report (SSR) are sent to most private colleges that a student chooses to apply to and requests for these typically start around the beginning of the school year, in August.
The administration, including counselors, assistant principals, and principals, split up the seniors amongst them to make it as fair as possible. Counselors write letters for the students in their alpha group but also end up writing letters for students they have never met before.
According to MVHS counselor Jessica Coscia, this time of year is especially stressful for administration, though many don’t see it. Counselors usually spend two hours per student on their letters.
“Letters of rec are great, we love being able to share how wonderful our students are with colleges and to be able to write on their behalf,” Coscia said. “But the amount of letters [about 50] we have to write, in the beginning of the year is so time-consuming.”
Besides writing letters, the MVHS administration also has to help seniors navigate through the college application process and help students with scheduling issues, which just adds to their workload. The first deadline of this year for students to turn in SSR requests was Aug. 31, so they received student’s folders during the first week of Sept.
MVHS counselor Clay Stiver also enjoys writing about the accomplishments of MVHS students, but he has noticed a trend in which letters come to him.
“It comes in waves for letter writing,” Stiver said. “We will get the big chunk in September and October and November and then it trickles down later on through December.”
As time has gone by, the counselors have figured out how to navigate certain parts of the process, but that doesn’t mean that the task gets any easier for them. For MVHS counselor Monique Balentine, you are always learning.
“You just learn to start recovering [after the recommendation letters are due]and try to be you your normal self,” Balentine said.
The stress, along with the letters, doesn’t stay at school — sometimes it follows them home. With their busy schedules, it is hard for admin to finish all their work at school, and they often end up writing the letters at home.
However, the stress and pressure of recommendation letters that the counselor feels never really goes away. According to the counselors, relief isn’t the right term.
“We have our late night writing party,” Stiver said. “I don’t know if it’s relief because the work doesn’t stop, if it’s not rec letters, then it’s the job, then the workloads there.”
The counselors have certain ways of alleviating the stress, from the environment that they write their letters in, to the company they have while writing. According to Stiver, it’s more fun to have company than to write alone at times, and sometimes it can be really helpful to be together.
“Every now and then we’ll go out to lunch together, or we’ll like order pizza here, just to be away from everything so we can chat about other things,” Stiver said. “The more of the things we do helps more about the stress of the job in general, not specifically the letters of rec.”
Due to the urgency of the letters, many administration sacrifices their own family time for writing letters, which also induces stress on their home life. Coscia, for example, finds it difficult to spend sufficient time with her children.
“Realistically, we have to write letters at home. We don’t have enough time in the day, from meeting with kids, answering emails, meeting with parents and teacher meetings,” Coscia said. “I don’t like to write rec letters outside of schools because […] I have kids, so do I want to spend time writing rec letters on the weekends or spend time with my son? Obviously, I want to hang out with my son.”
Coscia tries to write most of her letters at school, in order to spend more time with her family, but she’s always writing recommendation letters throughout the year.
Recommendation letters don’t stop after December, as students start reaching out to admin and their teachers for letters for summer programs. The process is never-ending.
“When we are done writing college application recs, we are writing summer program recs that all you guys come in for,” Coscia said. “Recs [are] just something we do throughout the year.”