LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — The University of California, Berkeley, will ask some freshman applicants to submit letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors this fall, and the UC system is considering having all campuses eventually do the same, according to a report.

The new policy at UC Berkeley – a significant break from tradition – is optional and limited this year, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

The decision has triggered 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.

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.

“I think it gives colleges a chance to know who you are, not just your academic profile, but who you are as a person,” said Tricia Lopez, a senior at Downtown Magnets High School.

Lopez plans to double major in creative writing and international relations and says her top college choice is UC Berkeley.

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.

Lynda McGhee, Lopez’s guidance counselor, says public school teachers and counselors are overloaded already and many won’t have time to carefully craft strong letters that compare to other letters students from small, private institutions may receive.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea because I don’t think it will be a fair process,” McGhee said.

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 told the Times.

UC generally has not asked for recommendations in its main undergraduate applications. It relies instead on high school grades, standardized test scores, personal essays and a review of students’ accomplishments and personal challenges.

UC Berkeley had planned to ask, but not require, all undergraduate applicants this fall to submit two letters of recommendation, including one from a teacher. But that idea sparked opposition statewide and was reduced in scope.

A committee of UC admissions officers is studying various changes to the online application that all nine undergraduate campuses share, including whether letters should be implemented system-wide.

A report is expected this fall, and proposed policy changes face review by faculty and top UC administrators, the newspaper said.

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