Cool to Be Kind: How One Teen’s Character Got Him Into an Ivy League School

“Oh, you got Mark Zuckerberg to write your letter of recommendation? That’s cute. I got the ghost of Steve Jobs to write mine. Sooo…”  — Some college student, somewhere, probably.

In a world where the college admissions process has turned into one giant cutthroat game of resume topping and an overload of extracurriculars, having stellar letters of recommendation signed by some prestigious names can end up being the deciding factor between you and a nearly identical candidate.

And believe me, at this point, most high school seniors’ resumes are pretty much identical. So having a good letter of recommendation? Well, that’s crucial.

There’s Good — And Then There’s This Guy

A good letter of recommendation details a student’s successes and achievements, touches on their leadership skills and their work ethic, and, for a little pizzazz, briefly mentions their passions. It’ll probably get someone into a good enough school as long as it’s signed by their principal.

But a great letter of recommendation? Well, we recently read about an example of a great letter of recommendation in a New York Times op-ed — one that addresses the things that truly matter.

This great letter of recommendation details the student’s kindness and thoughtfulness, touches on his respectfulness and helpfulness, and, for a little pizzazz, mentions that he made a point of learning the names of everyone on the janitorial staff.

And it got this kid unanimous approval during the admissions process because it was signed by his school custodian.

That’s right — a student asked the custodian at his New England public school to write him a letter of recommendation.

The custodian detailed how the student went out of his way to turn off lights in empty rooms, clean up after his peers and stop to thank the hall monitor every morning.

Rather than the typical cut-and-paste letter of recommendation the admissions board was used to seeing, this letter was distinct, as the unexpected source spoke to the student’s character, his thoughtful and caring attitude, and, overall, his kindness.

Rebecca Sabky, the director of admissions at Dartmouth College, where this student applied, wrote that during her 15 years at the school spent fielding more than 30,000 admissions applications, she had never seen a letter quite like this one.

Kindness is Key

If the new trend in college admissions is kindness, would that be so wrong?

Just imagine, if you will, a world in which students are judged not by the content of their resume and the fluffy filler in their admissions essays, but instead by their character and their desire to do good.

Imagine an entire generation of people who strive to be nicer, kinder and more tolerant and respectful than the people before them.

Sabky notes that while her essay may encourage a flood of recommendation letters similar to this one, she’ll take it as long as it means students will spend their time promoting kindness.

While no one really wants a bunch of teenagers trying to out-nice each other for the sake of a spot at their dream school, sometimes practice makes perfect — and I, for one, don’t mind giving them a little incentive.

Kindness and character as college criteria? I’m on board.

Your Turn: Do you think a person’s character should be the determining factor in getting into college?

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She just wants everyone to be nice to each other.