Of course I'm talking about those letters of recommendation that high school teachers are asked to write for students as part of their college application packets. Are these letters of enough value to justify the time spent writing them?
The LA Times reports that UC Berkeley is considering asking some applicants to include such letters, which will no doubt start an arms race with the other UC campuses:
In a significant break from tradition, UC Berkeley will ask some freshman applicants to submit letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors this fall. And the UC system is studying whether all of its nine undergraduate campuses should do the same in future years as another way to choose among the avalanche of students seeking admission.What are the pros and cons?
The new policy at UC Berkeley, while optional and limited this year, has triggered much debate at other UC campuses and high schools around the state about the value of such letters and whether they hurt or help the chances of public school students.
Adding even optional recommendations to all UC applications "would be a sea change," said Stephen Handel, UC's associate vice president for undergraduate admissions. Upcoming deliberation will have to measure the usefulness in admissions decisions against concerns that a change might "inadvertently disenfranchise certain students from even applying," he said.
Supporters say a recommendation letter can boost the chances of a deserving student whose test scores don't fully reflect his or her achievements and who did not have help from parents or private consultants in writing personal statements.As a teacher, I have better things to do than to spend my time writing meaningless letters. I can't just do a pro forma letter, I feel compelled to write a good one--and those take time:
Critics question the letters' worth in predicting college success and say they can reinforce advantages of well-connected students and those who attend private high schools with small classes and ample counseling staff...
"The pros have not outweighed the cons," she said. Students in big public schools "do not always have access to counselors who really know them and can advocate for them." And those teachers and counselors may not have the time to write adequate letters, she added.
"It's asking a lot more from the students and the high schools for something that will have a very minimal effect on whether the kids get in or not," he (a high school counselor) said, but he added that he would write them if asked.