Career Center

After you open a reference letter file, you may begin requesting letters. Reference letters written for inclusion in your file at the RLS cannot be school- or organization-specific since they are meant to be duplicated and sent to multiple recipients. If you need school- or organization-specific letters, please ask your reference writer to return the letter directly to the intended recipient.

While writers are encouraged to submit their letters online, they have the option to send hard copies to the University Career Center’s Reference Letter Service (RLS) if they prefer. The way you request the letter should match the way the letter is submitted by your writer:

Please ensure your writer’s ability/willingness to submit your reference letter electronically prior to officially requesting the letter online. If you request your letter online and the writer submits it on paper (and, thus, without the accompanying confidentiality waiver), your letter will be marked as non-confidential regardless of your preference. In order for a writer to submit a letter electronically, they need to have access to a scanner or have electronic versions of their signature and department/organization’s letterhead.

To request a letter for online submission:

  • Meet with your prospective writer and ensure their willingness to write you a positive reference
  • Verify your writer is prepared to submit your letter electronically—i.e., has access to a scanner and/or has electronic versions of own signature and department/organization’s letterhead
  • Log on to officially request their letter and indicate your preference for a confidential vs. a non-confidential letter
  • The letter writer will receive an e-mail notification of your request with instructions on how to submit your letter online to the RLS. You will be able to monitor when letters arrive.

Request a Letter for Online Submission

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Should your writer prefer to submit your letter on paper:

  • Provide the writer with a completed and signed evaluation form.
  • Ask the writer to return the letter and completed evaluation form to: Attn: Reference Letter Service, The University Career Center, University of Michigan, 3200 SAB, 515 E. Jefferson Street, Ann Arbor, 48109-1316. If a letter arrives at the RLS without such form, or if you do not sign it, the letter will automatically be designated as non-confidential.
  • Remind the writer that letters should be typed — not handwritten — on their department or organization’s letterhead and signed (photocopied or faxed letters are not accepted, nor are stamped signatures).

Download Reference Letter Evaluation Form

If you ask an individual to write a reference letter on your behalf, agree upon a timeline and periodically check the status of your file to see if the letter has indeed been submitted to the RLS. It is your responsibility to follow up with the reference writer if the letter is not received by the RLS. The RLS has no control over the U.S. Postal Service or campus mail.

  • Request letters online only if your writer plans to submit your letter electronically to the UM Reference Letter Service. Otherwise,

  • Give a writer a duly completed and signed evaluation form if your writer plans to submit a hard copy to the UM Reference Letter Service—see below.

Under the terms of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), you have the right to access your reference letters unless you choose to waive that right. You are encouraged to speak with your letter writers, admissions officers, and individuals working in your chosen field to seek advice as to which type of letters will be most useful to you.

The University Career Center's Reference Letter Service (RLS) must adhere to federal guidelines in implementing policies and procedures that protect students and letter writers. Once a letter is classified as confidential, the RLS staff may not evaluate, interpret, or provide a copy of the letter to you. Any questions regarding the content of the letter should be addressed directly to the author.

Although confidential letters tend to be more popular in both the employment and admission arenas, you have the legal right to request a non-confidential letter if you so wish. Remember that your entire file does not have to contain all confidential or non-confidential letters. You can designate the nature of each letter in your file. However,  different confidentiality designations for letters from the same author are not permissable even if the letters in questions are marked for different purposes and uses.

In general, most employers and graduate and professional school admission officers prefer confidential letters because they tend to be more balanced and candid than non-confidential letters. However, some individuals prefer to pursue non-confidential letters so that they can review them and make informed decision regarding their use in support of their application efforts.

As you ponder whether or not to have a confidential letter, please be advised that if you elect to have a confidential letter written on your behalf, you permanently waive your right to access the contents of that letter. Given the permanent nature of this decision, prior to making your choice, you are encouraged to discuss the following points with your letter writer:

  • the intended purpose of the letter (e.g., graduate, law, medical school vs. employment);
  • the writer’s ability and willingness to speak positively on your behalf; and
  • your permission, if applicable, to include personal information or special circumstances in the reference letter.

If you do not indicate your preference for a confidential vs. a non-confidential letter in the Evaluation Form, The University Career Center’s Reference Letter Service (RLS) will handle the letter as non-confidential for as long as that letter is housed in your file. You will have the opportunity to express your preference for a confidential vs. non-confidential letter whenever you request letters from your recommenders online. However, should your recommenders prefer to submit their letters on paper via regular mail, please give them a completed and signed evaluation form.