In April of 2015, the University of California Berkeley adopted a new policy for first-year applicants, one that encourages students to submit two letters of recommendation to be considered as part of the university’s holistic review process. This is a change of course for Berkeley as the university didn’t previously accept letters of recommendation. In fact, no other University of California school accepts letters of recommendation. UC Berkeley is the lone wolf. And why? University of California schools have often talked of parity when asked why they don’t accept letters of recommendation. They want each student to have an equal shot. In the past, UC admissions officers have told us about a concern that letters of recommendation would unfairly help boost students whose high schools have stronger relationships with the universities.
But we suspect the true reason is that admissions officers, quite simply, don’t have the time to read all of these letters of recommendation. Our suspicion is confirmed by the fact that UC Berkeley is hiring a bunch of additional admissions officers for this upcoming admissions cycle. That would make sense! And how is this going over with the other UC schools? Our sources tell us that UC Berkeley’s policy change is causing a bit of uproar among UC schools. Other schools are not too pleased that they’re encouraging (though not requiring) students to submit two letters of recommendation.
UC Berkeley has also outlined what should be expressed in these letters of recommendation: “Academic performance and potential (both overall and in the context of the class). Love of learning. Leadership (in school, family, or community). Persistence in the face of challenges. Cross-cultural engagement. Originality/Creativity. Demonstrated concern for others.” And they’ve put out a little video that we figured we’d share with our readers. Oh, and by the way, that which is “encouraged” in college admissions is, in our view, “required.” We salute Cal for changing things up in the UC system, for challenging the status quo, by asking to hear the opinions of teachers and those who can offer insight into the intellectual curiosity, love of learning, and character of applicants. We find that’s important.