Berkeley Recommendation Letter Guidelines (Freshmen Only)

Sounds like some students are already getting recommendation letter requests from Berkeley! If you get a request, know that this is not a sign that your application is strong or weak. This only indicates that there may be triggers in your application that prompted the request.

In the past (back when Berkeley used Supplemental Questionnaires, which is one form of Augmented Review), the campus asked for additional information from students with potential for academic success but appeared to lack support or resources, students who disclosed medical conditions and/or learning differences, and students with extraordinary athletic or other achievements. But when Berkeley replaced the Supplemental Questionnaires with the Optional Recommendation Letters (also a form of Augmented Review), a broader population of students seemed to be getting the requests.

As of July 12, 2017, the UCs revised the systemwide policy on Augmented Review (you can find my explanation here) and formalized some of the practices certain UC campuses were employing (such as Berkeley with the recommendation letters). This means Berkeley can now only request recommendation letters from up to 15% of the applicant pool (before this policy was in place, Berkeley may have been asking for recommendation letters from upwards of almost 40% of the applicants; but I don’t have independent verification of that claim).

Below is what a Berkeley application reader I know said about how to handle the recommendation letter request:

Even strong students are receiving requests for recommendation letters so that [Office of Undergraduate Admissions] can get a little more information about the student. Please encourage the students to encourage their teachers to submit very strong letters of rec that address aspects of the student that aren’t necessarily addressed in the application. For example, if the student gives a lot of evidence in their application and personal statements about their leadership skills, the letters of rec should probably address (and confirm) the student’s wonderful leadership qualities but don’t leave it at that. Also add in other qualities that the student has that may not have been addressed such as their love of learning, compassion for others, etc.; and they should address any contextual issues, such as challenges that the student has faced and how they have overcome those challenges.

Essentially you want the recommendation letter(s) to confirm what you emphasized in your application AND praise other qualities that you may or may not have already mentioned in your application.


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