Revised UC Policy Regarding Recommendation Letters

Update (7/25/2023): In the June 2023 Annual Report on Undergraduate Admissions Requirements and Comprehensive Review, each of the UC campuses provided an explanation of whether and how the “Augmented Review” process is utilized.

Update (2/5/2023): The Augmented Review policy was amended in July 2022. The revised policy can be found here.

The UC Regents approved a revision to the Augmented Review policy on Wednesday (July 12, 2017) that will give ALL UC campuses the option to request recommendation letters from a select pool of FRESHMAN applicants (i.e. NOT everyone will need to or be allowed to send recommendation letters), effective NOW (Fall 2018 application cycle – November 2017 application deadline). Find links to the policy and policy explanation, plus my advice for students, parents, teachers, and counselors below.

There are lots of information to unpack, and you can read about the hand-wringing (background information, concerns, justifications, etc.) here and the full policy here (there is a clear explanation of what an Augmented Review is in this document). Make sure you also read the one other policy linked in the documents, which has lots of useful information regarding the Comprehensive Review.

Don’t have time to wade through the legalese? Here’s the absolute minimum you need to know:

… policy outlines three types of supplemental information a campus may request from up to 15 percent of applicants in an augmented review: 1) a questionnaire inviting the applicant to elaborate on special talents, accomplishments, extraordinary circumstances, and/or their school/home environment; 2) first semester grades in the senior year ; and 3) up to two letters of recommendation. The proposed policy states that campuses may solicit letters of recommendation only from applicants selected for augmented review, applicants considered for admission by exception, and/or applicants given a special review in other specific situations such as athletic admissions.

For worried parents and students out there, the good news is you are unlikely to receive a request (only 15 students out of 100 will get a request). The bad news is that a request, if you do receive one, will probably come at a really bad time (during winter break, in the middle of finals, while you scramble to finish the Common App). If you have special circumstances that you expect to discuss in your UC Application, make sure you line up teachers, counselors, and/or other individuals who will be ready to write recommendation letters for you at the drop of a hat (ask early and give them plenty of warning about the timing). Keep in mind that you may receive requests from up to four UC campuses (Berkeley, Davis, UCLA, and San Diego are actively utilizing the Augmented Review process, and each does its own thing; this may change later *fingers crossed* and I will post an update if I hear anything).

Here are some examples of disclosed special circumstances (not a comprehensive list!) that may prompt the UCs to request recommendation letters:

  • low-resource school/limited educational opportunities
  • extraordinary talent and/or athletic endeavors
  • diagnosed medical problems and/or diagnosed/suspected learning differences
  • low income/financial problems
  • first generation (neither parent graduated from a 4-year college) and/or language barrier
  • AB 540/DREAMer status
  • family/personal situations or problems (such as family deaths, divorce, legal proceedings, foster care, and/or abuse)

An important side note: You need to clearly articulate how these special circumstances affected your school performance (or how you coped and not let them affect your school performance) in your UC Application!

For concerned teachers and counselors, the good news is that only up to 15% of the applicants may need to submit recommendation letters. The bad news is that 15% X 4 UC campuses is kind of a nightmare (currently, four UC campuses actively utilize the Augmented Review process: Berkeley, Davis, UCLA, and San Diego, and each does its own thing; this may change later *fingers crossed* and I will post an update if I hear anything). Plan your time accordingly, since the requests could possibly go out anytime between November and February (Berkeley sent out requests between November and January the last two years; many UCs, up to this point, ran the Augmented Review process between December and February) and will overlap with peak recommendation letter season for the Common App.

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