Sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat, and a terrible dark haze that doesn’t let any rational thoughts through. Everyone’s been there, feeling scared of the future. For high school seniors planning to attend college, there’s nothing more stressful than the long process they have to endure. College is a gateway to the next chapter of independence in their lives and the many opportunities and life experiences to come. It’s understandable that students would like to know which colleges are open to them as soon as possible. Students can learn this through a letter informing them that they are in the top nine percent of seniors at BHS, essentially guaranteeing them a spot at least one University of California school. However, this practice actually does more harm than it does good.
It is extremely divisive and discouraging to the vast majority of students who aren’t in the top nine percent. At Berkeley High School, it’s already common practice to share and wonder what grades others have. After all, it’s only human nature to compare oneself to others, and knowing one is behind the curve is a deeply disheartening feeling. It is detrimental to mental health, and can also makes students reluctant to apply to any top schools, as they feel like they can’t get in.
Furthermore, being in the top nine percent of one’s class may not be fully representative of the types of universities that one can get into.
Gemma Shabel, a BHS senior who received a letter, said, “My grades in classes don’t always reflect how I’m performing, and so I don’t think it’s really fair to put someone at the top of a class based on one grade.”
While colleges do look at grades, they also look at a wide array of things like extracurricular activities and essays. Simply being in the nine percent might give some students a false sense of security while crushing the self-esteem of other students.
Since the top nine percent is calculated using UC GPA standards, it is quite likely that the letters disproportionately favor students in Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School who have more access to weighted classes than Arts and Humanities Academy, Academy of Medicine and Public Services, and Communications Arts and Sciences. Clearly, this isn’t a helpful or equitable way to help seniors navigate the stress of college.
On the other hand, those in favor of the top nine percent letter argue that it’s nice for students to be alerted because knowing one is almost guaranteed to get into a “good” college provides a solid safety net. While this may be true, it instills confidence in those in the top nine percent at the expense of the 91 percent of students not included in this group. Most students in the top nine percent are already aware they are high-achieving, so the letters don’t really make a difference in stress or whether they apply to the UCs.
The UCs should not continue on with these letters, as they overstate the importance of grades in college admissions while discounting access to weighted classes. This process sows division amongst seniors, perpetuating a hierarchy that doesn’t properly acknowledge students successes beyond just their GPA.