Berkeley’s optional rec letters a step in the right direction

January 15, 2016 — by Amith Galivanche

UC Berkeley is a top-choice school for many students here. With its proximity to home, liberal atmosphere, relatively reasonable price tag and high national ranking, admission into the university is a praiseworthy accomplishment.

In the past, however, Berkeley has suffered a major admissions flaw: It is notorious  for emphasizing an applicant’s grade point average and standardized test scores over all other aspects of the individual.

But starting this year, Berkeley has decided to request optional recommendation letters from a percentage of its applicants, especially if the university has a hard time making a decision on admission.

This change is necessary because a positive letter highlighting favorable aspects of a student can help to choose among seemingly equally qualified candidates.

Opponents of this policy argue that it gives an unfair advantage to affluent students attending private schools, whose connections and small school sizes make it easier to get recommendation letters.

What these opponents overlook, however, is that faculty at public schools may be equally willing and able to write glowing recommendation letters for deserving students and that lower-income students, who do not receive assistance in editing college essays, benefit immensely from a recommendation letter.

In addition, the Berkeley admissions website specifically says that applicants will not be negatively affected by not submitting optional recommendation letters. Students who are unable to procure high-quality recommendation letters will not be at a disadvantage.

Another advantage of including recommendation letters is that they showcase positive aspects of a student’s personality. While it may seem egotistical for applicants to list his or her own positive traits, a teacher or coach writing about the student in the same way shows the applicant in a better light — one that cannot be achieved through the old application-only process.

While recommendation letters may be controversial, opponents should realize that they are a fair way to truly evaluate a hopeful applicant.

In short, Berkeley’s implementation of this practice is a step in the right direction from its previously absolutist system where applicants were treated more like numbers than people.