The Ivy Coach Daily

February 23, 2022

On Letters of Recommendation

A piece up on Inside Higher Ed focuses on the debate over letters of recommendation.

Standardized testing has long been the bullseye in target practice as activists for equity in college admissions seek to create a more just system for all. But standardized testing isn’t their only target in sight. It’s also letters of recommendation. That’s right. Letters of recommendation from teachers and the school counselor, which are not accepted at the University of California, Los Angeles and optional at the University of California, Berkeley, are purportedly unfair since teachers at top private schools can spend more time getting to know students and crafting such letters than can teachers at large public schools.

As Scott Jaschik reports for Insider Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Are Recommendation Letters a Form of Discrimination?,” “If you are applying to the University of California, Los Angeles, you can’t submit a letter of recommendation. The reason is equity, said Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost for enrollment management. ’The caseload for most public school counselors is incredibly heavy,’ she said. ’Despite their desire to support their senior students, they have many responsibilities.’ She said low-income students ’are more likely’ to have teachers who are overworked and are teaching under emergency credentialing systems. Copeland-Morgan said that when you consider the context, it is unfair to accept letters, so UCLA has not done so ’for decades.’”

But it’s not like UCLA and Berkeley are leading a charge against the consideration of letters of recommendation in elite college admissions. Rather, these schools are very much marching to the beat of their own drum — and they have been for some time. Besides, if standardized testing and letters of recommendation are eliminated from the college admissions process, what would be next on the chopping block? Grades? Should admissions officers just draw students from a hat? While we acknowledge that letters of recommendation aren’t perfect, it’s ridiculous to suggest that teachers and school counselors at large public schools can’t submit great letters. They sure can and they so often do. And if these advocates truly believe that teachers and school counselors at private schools write great letters, well, they haven’t read so many of their generic letters. Yes, believe it or not, teachers and school counselors at large and small schools, private and public schools, urban and rural schools — they’re all capable of writing bad letters.

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