Letters of Recommendation

General Information

Applying to graduate and professional schools is a time-consuming and often worrisome concern for many students. Since most questions about the process are fairly standard, the residential college deans have prepared this memorandum to outline the various services at Yale ready to assist you in your endeavor. Yale’s Office of Career Strategy, 55 Whitney Avenue, provides registration materials for the various standardized tests, such as the GRE and the LSAT. It also maintains files of information about schools and other academic or career programs. Such information is often publicized in the Yale Bulletin and Calendar, the Yale Daily News, or in notices in each residential college. Some of the information can also be accessed through the Office of Career Strategy home page at http://ocs.yale.edu. The OCS staff is ready to assist you. Faculty members throughout the University are generally available to provide advice about careers in their respective fields. The residential college deans are also willing to give advice. If they are unable to provide the exact information you need, they can usually direct you to sources of such information.


Transcripts are official Yale College documents and are issued only by the Registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. They may be ordered by mail, on line, by phone (888-290-0690), or in person at the Registrar’s Office, 246 Church Street. Please refer to Office of the Registrar website regarding transcript requests. For each transcript order, the charge for the first transcript is $7.00; there is a charge of $3.00 for each additional transcript ordered at the same time. Orders are usually completed within five business days after they are received. Note, however, that mailed requests go through both the U.S. and campus mail and may take a week or more before they are received by the Registrar’s Office. (The Registrar’s Office is closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day when many applications are due. You should therefore allow extra processing time at that time of year.) It is sometimes possible for the Registrar’s Office to accept rush orders. For these orders, there are additional processing and mailing fees. The Registrar provides in each student’s fall registration packet, free of charge, a copy of the student’s academic record to date, but this unofficial document should not be confused with the official transcript required by graduate and professional schools.

Letters of Recommendation

If you wish, your residential college dean’s office will maintain for you a “placement file,” consisting of letters of recommendation that you have solicited from instructors and others. When you want these letters to be sent, your dean’s office will, on your instructions, forward photocopies of your letters to the person or institution that you designate. Please note: letters for use in connection with application to medical school must not be sent to your dean’s office. Placement files for premedical students are maintained in the office of the Health Professions Advisory Board at the Office of Career Strategy, 55 Whitney Avenue, where the appropriate evaluation forms may be obtained. Guidelines for obtaining letters of recommendation for fellowships are available on the Application Process page of the Fellowship section of the Yale College Web site.

Following are some general guidelines concerning letters of recommendation.

When Should I Begin a Placement File in My College Dean’s Office?

While it makes sense to request a letter from an instructor while impressions of you are still fresh in his or her mind, most letters are not sought - and perhaps should not be sought - until the junior year. In general, current letters of support carry more weight than older ones. By and large, you want the testimony on your behalf to reflect the best and latest of your Yale career.

How Many?

This depends on your plans. For many medical schools, a half-dozen is not too many. For certain law and medical schools, however, two or three is the allowed maximum. You may acquire more, but keep this in mind: even if a school allows an unspecified number to be sent, there is a danger in swamping the admissions committee with so many statements that they miss the punch of the two or three especially good letters you may have. If submitted by themselves, those letters are more likely to be read carefully. Do not casually request letters if you do not intend to use them. Faculty members take these requests seriously and spend a considerable amount of time honoring them.

From Whom?

The answer to this question depends on the eventual use of the letter. Your first need is to have evidence of your academic ability expressed by someone in a position to do it persuasively. If you are applying to medical school, letters from instructors able to comment on your ability in the natural sciences are essential. Law schools, while not requiring any specific preparation, are concerned with your ability to think logically and to express yourself clearly in writing and in speaking. Graduate schools look for letters testifying to your ability to do advanced work independently.

You should not always go to the person with a prestigious title for a letter. The eventual readers of these letters look for evidence that the referee knows you, so ask accordingly.

If you are a transfer student or have taken courses elsewhere, a letter from a faculty member outside Yale would be appropriate. You should, however, have at least one letter from a Yale faculty member.

Most law schools either require or recommend a “dean’s letter.” The function of this letter is to provide an overview of your Yale record, both academic and extracurricular, and a personal assessment from someone who has come to know you. Law schools ask the dean to certify that you have not been in any academic or disciplinary difficulties and to explain these if they have occurred. Finally, you certainly would be wise to ask for a recommendation from someone who knows you outside Yale whenever such a letter could provide testimony concerning special experiences or talents. A summer employer, a volunteer work supervisor, or a person for whom you have worked in an internship is a possible referee.

How Do I Ask for a Letter?

When you decide on those whom you would like to write on your behalf, ask them in person if possible. You may suggest an interview or at least provide them with an up-to-date résumé and any other information they might need to write a good letter. Let your referees know clearly the uses to which the letter will be put, as, for example, for applications to law schools, medical schools, or business schools, or for applications for employment after graduation. Give them an addressed envelope (either to your college dean’s office or to the Health Professions Advisory Board, 55 Whitney Avenue) along with the recommendation form. Most important, give them time; do not wait until the last minute.

Which Form Should I Use?

Your residential college dean’s office keeps two types of recommendation forms in stock. They are identical except that one of them contains a waiver of access. If you sign the waiver, you relinquish your right to any future access to that letter. The second form does not have this waiver. You are free to choose whichever form you want, but remember that full credence might not be given to the letter without the signed waiver.

Quite often, schools provide their own forms, but if you have a placement file in your college dean’s office, it is seldom necessary to use them; instead, the Yale form is photocopied and attached to the school’s form. Submitting a photocopied Yale form in no way disadvantages you. Most of the schools to which you are applying will have received applications from previous Yale students, so they are familiar with the Yale form, and it is clear to the admissions committees that the Yale letter constitutes the designated recommendation.

Remember, if you are applying to medical school, you must use the forms provided by the Health Professions Advisory Board. These forms are used only for medical school applications, so if you are applying to a graduate school as well, you must use the forms supplied by your dean. It is advisable to request recommendations from your referees for graduate school or for employment simultaneously with those for medical school. In the event that your plans for a medical career should change, you will still have a permanent dossier at your college which may be used for any purpose.

How Do the Letters Get from My College Dean’s Office to Where I Need Them?

Easily! Provide the senior administrative assistant with stamped, addressed envelopes (no return addresses, please - the office return address is used). It is important that all such requests be made in writing.

Timing is crucial. There is always a crunch at the end of the fall term to get letters out. You help everyone, yourself included, if you complete your placement file by December 1. This is even more important if you are completing your degree requirements in December; if that is the case, before you leave New Haven, you should check with your dean’s office to see if your file is complete.

As far as is possible, make all your requests of the administrative assistant at one time. If your directions are clear, most requests can be processed within one or two working days.

What Are the Procedures for Institutions Requesting Totally Assembled Application Packets with Letters of Recommendation Enclosed?

Some institutions request students themselves to assemble all of their application materials, including letters of recommendation, and to mail them together to the institution as an all-inclusive packet in the same covering envelope. Yale cannot cooperate with this arrangement, because it might seem to compromise the strict confidentiality of students’ letters. That is the case even though the letters would be in sealed envelopes, since the arrangement would nonetheless involve actually handing over to students themselves copies of their references. Instead, your college dean’s office must send your letters of recommendation to these institutions in exactly the same way that it sends letters to other institutions. That is, you should give to your dean’s administrative assistant stamped envelopes addressed to the institution; the administrative assistant will place copies of your letters in those envelopes and mail the envelopes directly and separately to the institution. Included with the letters of recommendation are cover letters that explain Yale’s policy of sending the letters separately. You yourself mail your “all-inclusive” application packet to the institution, minus the copies of the letters of recommendation on file in your dean’s office. We suggest that you enclose a note in the packet stating that your college dean’s office is sending your letters separately, and that it is Yale’s policy to send them in that way.

Yale has checked with institutions that request all-inclusive application packets, and they have assured us that our method is acceptable to them. There is a good reason for Yale’s policy. College deans certainly trust their students not to read their letters of recommendation. Nevertheless, if members of the faculty are to remain confident that residential college deans’ offices are totally secure repositories of confidential letters of reference, any arrangement by which anyone other than the college dean or the administrative assistant possessed the letters before they are mailed might possibly compromise trust in a system that is so convenient and advantageous to students, and that has been worked out so successfully over the years between the deans’ offices and the faculty.

There’s No Letter!

Unfortunately, this is an all-too-frequent complaint. You have done everything you can do, and Professor X still hasn’t come through. Politely, but firmly, let him or her know that the letter is vital and that a deadline is approaching.

You should check your placement file periodically during the term to see if any requested letters have not yet arrived. If time is running out and any are still missing, tell the administrative assistant. Give the assistant properly addressed and stamped envelopes and request that when they arrive, the letters be duplicated and mailed promptly. This procedure might get your application completed just under the wire.

What Happens after I Graduate?

Your placement file is kept after your graduation. The procedure for having letters sent is the same as that outlined above. Make sure you include your year of graduation on your request, and include postage. This service is free of charge while you are an enrolled student in Yale College and for the first year thereafter; beyond this point there is a fee of $5.00 for each packet mailed. The fee must accompany your request.

Personal Essays

The essays you write for your applications to graduate or professional schools are extremely important in any consideration of your candidacy. It is strongly recommended that you discuss these essays with your residential college writing tutor or with your faculty adviser. You will discover that writing them is much more difficult and time-consuming than you might imagine at first. Start on them early, remembering that you will probably need to put them through a number of drafts.