UC Berkeley’s new request for letters of recommendation

UC Berkeley's new request for letters of recommendation

Frances Wu, News Editor

Letters of recommendation have come to be the only part of college applications that students don’t have to do themselves. Traditionally, only private schools require them, while the ever-popular UCs do not. However, due to an ever-increasing number of applicants, UC Berkeley has decided to start requesting letters of recommendation from certain freshman applicants, with the letters tentatively scheduled to become a mandatory requirement starting next school year.

The university estimates that in December, it will start to request letters from around 20 percent of applicants, which should be around 16,000 students and up to 32,000 letters. But in reality, how reliable can these letters really be?

When asked to write a letter, many recommenders head directly to thesaurus.com to find the most attractive-sounding adjectives. In fact, a quick search on Google will lead you to websites that list “130 Positive Personality Adjectives for Your Next Job Interview.” Motivated, adaptable, inventive, quick-witted—multiply that by 30,000 and what do you end up with? A large pile of nothing.

Some students may also have problems finding trusted adults to ask for letters of recommendation, putting them at a disadvantage and forcing admissions officers to once again view applicants’ test scores and personal statements.

Advocates for these letters say that recommendations provide a glimpse of a student, one that goes beyond their test scores, so that administration can separate the students with true character versus those who merely test well.

Amy Jarich, UC Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor and director of undergraduate admission, tells the Los Angeles Times that these letters will be able to “point us to the very best kid in the class, even if the standardized test scores are not the highest.”

However, the current UC application already provides that, as students are required to list their accomplishments and awards and write two personal statements that explain themselves and give a quick glimpse into their lives, challenges, and triumphs.

While I appreciate that the UC admission officers are trying to humanize the admission process by trying to understand applicants as people and not just test scores, making these transparently flattering letters of recommendation mandatory in the future isn’t the best solution, and the admissions system would be better off without them.