All colleges require student applicants to describe themselves and detail their accomplishments and activities as part of the admission process. But few schools ask for information from the people who know the applicants best: their parents.
Smith is one of the few.
“I think that parents feel that they are completely disregarded in the college process,” said Debra Shaver, director of admission. “Admission officers—me included—tell parents they need to back off and let the student control the process. And yet, let’s face it, it has been our jobs for 18 years to be involved in our children’s lives.”
Smith seeks parents’ input about their children, to gain information about applicants that could not be obtained from anyone else, Shaver explains. The college began offering parents the opportunity to write recommendations on behalf of their teenagers nearly 20 years ago.
The testimonials always add texture to the application package, said Shaver, who makes sure to keep a box of tissues nearby when reading the parents’ heartfelt notes.
Among the most notable, Shaver recalls, was a poem created by a father with his daughter in mind. Then there was the video submission from a non-English-speaking mother who spoke as her daughter translated.
“Each parent recommendation is different, just like each student is different,” Shaver said. “You might think that parents do nothing but brag, but they take this exercise quite seriously.”
About 45 percent of the parents of traditional-aged applicants submit a letter, Shaver said. A few years ago, Smith instituted a length limitation of a single page because the narratives tended to be lengthy.
Although parents’ submissions are an important part of understanding an applicant, Shaver noted, an admission decision is primarily based on academics, and a parent letter will never make or break the decision.
“At some point in the letter most parents acknowledge that the process of writing was difficult, emotional and cathartic,” said Shaver. “They almost always write how appreciative they are just to have been asked.”
The Admission Office is currently reviewing applications for the Class of 2016.