The letter recommending Christianne Beasley for admission to Smith College didn't come from the most unbiased of sources. But there was no disputing the writer knew this applicant as well as anyone.
"Christianne and Smith seem to be a perfect match," wrote Nancy Beasley, four years ago, on behalf of her only daughter, now a Smith senior. She described Christianne's "grace and dignity," and explained why she thought the prestigious and diverse Northampton, Mass., women's college was the perfect fit for the girl she'd raised.
Smith is among just a few colleges – among them nearby Mt. Holyoke and Holy Cross in Massachusetts, St. Anselm in New Hampshire, and the University of Richmond – that invite parents to submit letters on behalf of their children (either as part of the application itself, or in a follow-up invitation after the application is received). At Smith, finalizing this month the 640 or so members of the Class of 2016 from more than 4,300 applications, a little less than half include a parental letter. The college takes pains to emphasize such letters are optional and won't make or break a decision.