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Post by: Mikaela Allen, MTS 2019, HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistant

This article is part of our How to Apply series, which answers common questions about the application process and includes these articles:

Do you accept recommendation letters through Interfolio? What about over email?

We do not accept recommendation letters through Interfolio or through email (in fact, we do not accept any application materials via email). You must enter the recommender’s information into the online application and select to either have your recommender submit their letter electronically or through the mail. If they are able to submit their letter electronically (recommended), your recommender will receive an invite through the email you listed for them within the application to upload their letter. They will first fill out a simple online form with a few brief questions, and then either copy and paste or upload their letter into the portal.

If they must physically mail their recommendation letter, you, the applicant, must first print and complete the indicated areas on the “Print Paper Recommendation” form found within the application. Your recommender must then mail this form and their letter directly to our office. We encourage whenever possible that your recommender use the online form rather than mailing us a physical copy.

I have been out of school for a while and am unable to provide an academic letter of recommendation. Will a professional recommendation work as a substitute?

While it is ideal that you have at least one academic letter of recommendation, many of our students have been out of school and in professional fields for a number of years. In these cases, it is still advisable that you contact professors from either undergraduate or previous graduate degrees for a recommendation letter. However, we understand that obtaining an academic letter is not feasible for everyone, so it is important that you have conversations with your recommenders so that they can speak to the transferable skills you will carry with you throughout your graduate study. Professional recommenders should be able to address your professional and academic skills and the ways in which your professional experience supports your goals for graduate theological study.

Please bear in mind that MDiv applicants should include a recommender that can speak to their ministerial capacity, whatever that may look like for a particular tradition or practice.

Can I submit my application even though my recommenders haven’t submitted their letters yet?

Yes! We do recommend you monitor your application checklist to make sure that all letters are submitted by the application deadline. After submitting your application and in case of a serious situation, such as an illness, that has inhibited your recommender from uploading their letter, please contact our office at admissions@hds.harvard.edu and we may be able to exchange recommenders within your application.

Is it better to have someone affiliated with HDS, like an alum I’ve met casually, write a letter of recommendation rather than someone who knows me well? What about asking my Dean to write a letter rather than a professor I’ve taken multiple courses with and can speak to my academic capabilities?

It is always better that you select recommenders who know you well and can speak to the overall quality of your character and academic preparation than to choose someone based on their prestige or connection with HDS. The letters of recommendation are one of the most important aspects of your application, so it is important that your recommenders know you well and that you trust them to highlight your best qualities. It is usually a good idea to start talking with potential recommenders at least two months in advance of the January 15th due date. They should be knowledgeable about the degree program you are applying to and why you have decided to apply to HDS. If there is an element of the application that are you concerned about, you could also have the recommender address that. For example, if you feel that your GPA does not reflect your true academic potential, your recommender can address this directly in their letter.

I submitted my application and all materials, but still have a red “x” next to a test score, recommendation, or transcript. Should I be worried?

Great question! If you know that you have sent in all materials, please bear in mind that we must process a high volume of materials, which can take up to a week. It is important that you monitor your checklist to see if we have received and processed your materials. We cannot verify individual items on your checklist so do not email us right away if this is the case. If a significant amount of time has passed since you think we should have received your materials, usually about a week or so, please do contact us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu as it could mean that an error has occurred.

Upon submitting your application, you may notice a red x at the top of the application checklist page next to the statement “all documents have been checked and verified by the Office of Admissions.” Our office must process and verify every single document submitted through the application, which can take around a month to complete. If we find any errors during our verification process, we will reach out to you directly. Otherwise, you do not need to worry.

I hope this information has proven helpful for you! If you have any further questions or concerns not addressed here, please reach out to us at admissions@hds.harvard.edu.  Again, keep any eye out for our upcoming post on test scores, and good luck with your applications!