by Yitzy Richter (’17)

On Monday, September 26, MTA faculty members stayed after school to attend a workshop given by Elizabeth Downing, Associate Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Downing, who told the teachers that in her career she has read over 20,000 recommendations, offered tips on making a student stand out and be of greater interest to a selective college.

While her advice was directed at faculty members writing recommendations, some of her advice is good for students to consider when deciding whom to ask for a recommendation. Most importantly, she argued that the best recommendation will have a story or an anecdote about the student that characterizes him – perhaps about how he struggled to overcome a difficulty or showed leadership in the classroom in some way. The takeaway for students, then, is to find teachers who have such a story to tell, and perhaps even to remind them of a story that the student finds compelling or important.

A second point she made was that she considers herself a representative for the Penn faculty; she views it her job to bring to their classrooms students whom they’ll enjoy teaching. It’s therefore important for a recommender to describe why it was fun to teach a particular student, either because of his interesting questions or how helpful he is to the teacher and his peers, or how dedicated he is to learning. Or, as Ms. Downing put it, why the teacher is disappointed when the student is out sick! We are all appreciative of Ms. Downing for visiting our school and helping our faculty. Her willingness to be with us shows that she sees herself not only as a “gatekeeper” but also as an educator, someone sincerely interested in helping people grow.


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