Dossier Service for Letters of Recommendation
If you wish, your residential college Dean’s Office will maintain for you a “placement file,” (also called a dossier service) 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 that are stated in the dossier file forms, forward photocopies of your letters to the person or institution that you designate.
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.
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.
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 certification 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 confidential statement forms in stock. When you sign the waiver on this form, you relinquish your right to any future access to that recommendation letter.
Please note: letters for use in connection with application to medical or law school must not be sent to your Dean’s Office. Remember, if you are applying to medical school, you must use the forms provided by the Health Professions Advisory Board. Placement files for pre-medical students are maintained in the office of the Health Professions Advisory Board at Undergraduate Career Services, 55 Whitney Avenue, where the appropriate evaluation forms may be obtained. On the other hand, placement files for pre-law students are usually maintained through Law School Admission Council (LSAC). However, if you are applying to a graduate school you must use the forms supplied by your dean. It is advisable to request recommendations from your referees for graduate school or for employment.
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.