1. Are teacher and counselor recommendations in essay form?
2. I heard that it's possible to have guaranteed admission to the UC system (doesn't matter which school to me - I want to know so I can determine whether or not I will have a guaranteed school as safety). How does that work?
It is called the Eligibility In The Local Context (ELC) prgram. You must graduate in the top 4% of a CA HS to qualify. You are usually offered acceptance into one of the secondary UC's. My daughter was offered admission into UC Santa Barbara several years ago.