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Letters of Recommendation

Please note that the information below refers to the HGSE application for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Applicants are required to submit three recommendations using the online application system. Please note that we are unable to facilitate changing recommenders once you have entered them in the Recommendations section of your application. Please think carefully and thoughtfully about who you would like to serve as your recommenders before adding them to your application.

You cannot be involved in any way in the drafting or writing of your recommendation letter. Writing a first draft of a letter to give to your recommender is inappropriate. You may provide a resume or summary of your accomplishments to your recommender to use for contextual information, but you should not provide any materials beyond these examples. Please remember that in the application, you will be required to electronically sign a statement confirming that you had no participation in the drafting or submission of your recommendation letter. Note that the HGSE Admissions Office may follow up with recommenders as needed for additional information.

Additionally, you cannot help your recommender submit your own letter. If the recommender would benefit from having someone walk through the uploading and submission process, he/she can ask for assistance from anyone else aside from yourself. This might be a colleague, an assistant, or a family member. If your recommender is having technical trouble, you can direct him or her to our office.

Non-English Letters of Recommendation

If one of your letter writers is planning to submit a letter written in a language other than English, your recommender is also responsible for submitting a certified, literal (word-for-word) translation. The recommender will need to upload both documents: the original non-English letter and the certified translation. The applicant must not be involved in neither the translation nor the uploading of documents.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974 (Buckley Amendment) allows you to access your educational records if you are admitted and decide to enroll at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. If you enroll at HGSE, your educational records would generally include information like your enrollment status, grades, and your admissions records – including letters of recommendation submitted on your behalf. More information about FERPA can be found on the U.S. Department of Education website.

If you decide to waive your right to access the letter of recommendation, this means that you will not be able to access your recommender’s letter in your educational records at HGSE. However, if you choose to not waive your right, then you will have access to your letter if you enroll at HGSE.

You are not required to waive your right to access a letter of recommendation. In deciding whether or not to provide a waiver, there are several factors you may wish to consider.

Your recommender will be able to see whether or not you have chosen to waive your right to access your letter of recommendation. The reviewers of your application will be able to see this as well. Some recommenders may feel more comfortable providing a candid and truthful letter of recommendation if you waive your right to access the letter, because they will know that their letter will remain confidential. In some instances, a recommender may refuse to write a letter on your behalf unless you waive your access rights. We strongly encourage you to discuss whether or not to waive your rights with any potential recommender prior to including them in your application.

Please note: upon sending your recommender request, you will no longer be able to change your decision about whether to waive your right.

Best Practices

If submitting recommendations as part of an application process is new to you, we encourage you to review the following best practices:

Identify potential letter writers who would be able to make a strong case for you to pursue graduate study.
You should obtain current recommendations that directly address their candidacy for admission to HGSE. Ideally, your letter writers would include those from both academic and professional settings. If it has been several years since you took undergraduate or graduate courses, it is fine to have all recommendations be from professional contexts. Letter writers cannot be family members and should not be personal friends.

Ask for letters of recommendations well before the application deadline.
You want to give your letter writers plenty of time to write a letter for you. Ask if he/she would be able to write you a strong letter and will have the time to do so. A rushed letter may not be as compelling as one that is written with time for reflection. Additionally, a potential letter writer may decline your request and you want to have plenty of time to find an alternative recommender.

Have a conversation with your potential recommender first.
It is recommended to provide your letter writer with contextual information about yourself. You might have a conversation about your reasons for pursuing graduate study. You may give them a copy of your resume or a draft of your statement of purpose.

Discuss with your letter writer your decision of whether or not you will waive your right to access the letter of recommendation.
Your letter writer should be aware if you will not be waiving your right and thus, will have access to the letter if you are admitted.

Inform your letter writer of the online process of submitting their letter and the deadlines for submission.
Once you enter your letter writer's information in the application system, an automatic email will be sent to them with instructions. However, it is good practice to be clear with your letter writer the deadline for submission of their letter.

Remind Your Recommenders
You are able to send an email reminder to your referees via the Recommendations section of the online application. Please be sure, however, that your recommenders are aware of the application deadlines and online process, and choose them carefully to ensure that they can write on your behalf in a timely manner.

If you have entered the names and contact information of your referees and if the other portions of your application are complete, then you may submit your online application.

Using Interfolio to submit letters of recommendation
Because of the requirements of HGSE's recommendation forms, Interfolio is not compatible with the online system. Please ask your recommenders to submit their letters directly using the online application system. Please remember that letters written specifically for your HGSE degree application tend to be stronger than letters written for general use purpose.