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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:

This post was originally written in 2018 but has been updated to reflect accurate application information in December 2020. To provide additional insight on this section of the application, we’ve included a short video with our Admissions Graduate Assistants, Kate Hoeting, Atéha Bailly, and Jessica Cantos, where they share their experiences with the letters of recommendation.

In the video we refer to the recorded admissions virtual events. You can access those here.


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 then your recommender will receive an invite through the email you listed for them to upload their letter into the application. Recommenders must submit their letter electronically. 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.

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.

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 deadline. 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 have any questions 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!