Teacher Recommendation Letters Influence Harvard Decision

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Details about Harvard’s admissions process are surfacing during the trial about how the university’s “race-conscious” decision policy may adversely affect Asian-Americans. The entire guidebook for admissions decisions in 2014 was entered into evidence.

This week, Harvard revealed that white students typically receive “somewhat stronger” recommendation letters from teachers and guidance counselors than Asian-American students, which affects each group’s “personal rating.” The personal ratings on based on characteristics such as kindness, courage, and leadership. When writing letters, reviewers are asked to assess “consistent testimony of an applicant’s unusual effervescence, charity, maturity, or strength of character.”

Back in 1990, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights criticized Harvard’s practice of using a personal rating and admissions officers’ stereotypical comments of Asian-American students. The same issue seems to be presented here, with comments from teachers and guidance counselors.

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  • How valuable do you think teacher and guidance counselor letters of recommendation are in the admissions process? How much weight should they carry in the overall decision?

  • By definition, the personal rating includes subjective evaluations. Should universities try to avoid subjectivity in the admissions process? Why or why not?