is a "Dean's Letter"? In
addition to your letters of recommendation,
many law schools require you to submit a "Dean's letter,"
sometimes also called a "Dean's Certification Letter" or "College
Certification Letter." The Dean's letter certifies that you are
(or were upon graduation) a student in good standing at Harvard. If
you were ever the subject of formal academic or disciplinary proceedings
at Harvard, the Dean's letter generally must disclose this information
(under what circumstances?).
The Dean's letter
is one of the institutional advantages that Harvard students enjoy in
the law school application process. For most students at most colleges,
the Dean's letter is simply a photocopied form letter from the Dean's
Office. Harvard, however, does things differently (doesn't it always?).
Harvard views the
Dean's letter as an opportunity to supplement and develop your application.
After discussing your concerns with you and studying your application,
your Dunster nonresident
pre-law tutor will compose a "customized" Dean's letter
that both makes the necessary certifications AND functions as an additional
letter of recommendation on your behalf. Your letter will then be edited
and signed by the Resident Tutor in Law and by the Resident Dean.
Some law schools
(such as NYU, at least in the past) do not require a Dean's letter.
Dunster usually sends a copy of your Dean's letter to these schools
Can the Dean's Letter Help Me? Think
of the Dean's letter as a letter of recommendation over which you have
greater (albeit not perfect) control. There are certain
disclosures that the House is required to make in your Dean's letter.
Otherwise, your Dean's letter is a tool for you (through conversations
with your pre-tutor, who will write the letter) to address aspects of
your qualifications that are awkward or inconvenient to raise elsewhere.
For example, a
student might use his Dean's letter to offer an explanation for a
particular bad grade that appears on his transcript -- e.g., that
he was distracted by a family tragedy that occurred during that
semester. The Dean's letter is perfect for this purpose because it
comes from the College, not from you, and therefore the explanation
does not appear defensive or canned. Of course, we will only
report explanations that are true! Alternatively, a student might
use her Dean's letter to highlight a theme in her extracurricular
activities -- e.g., leadership in charitable organizations. This
approach can be particularly effective in combination with your personal statement, which
might highlight (or juxtapose) similar (or divergent) themes.
Also, if there is a weak spot in your application (i.e. a low LSAT
score that you feel does not represent your true abilities, or a
GPA that was lowered as a result of a bad semester due to an
unusual circumstance) please talk to your Pre-law tutor about it.
There a couple of options for handling this - in some cases, your
tutor may recommend that you write a separate statement to be
appended to your application explaining the circumstances
surrounding that part of your application. Another possibility
would be for your tutor to mention/explain it in your Dean's
letter. Your tutor can advise you as to the best course of action
depending on your particular circumstance.
Do I Obtain a Dean's Letter? Just
tell your pre-law tutor
and it shall be done! (Don't have a pre-law tutor? Register
for the Dunster Pre-Law Program and you will be assigned a tutor automatically).
Of course, your pre-law tutor can hardly write a good Dean's letter
for you if he/she doesn't know you at all. As noted below, it is your
responsibility to make sure your tutor has all the information he/she
needs to compose your letter.
Information Should I Give to My Tutor? Needless
to say, it is your responsibility to work with your pre-law tutor
to ensure that your tutor has the information necessary to address the
strengths and/or weaknesses that you perceive in your application. There
are a few specific things you should do:
- First, the
essential grist for your Dean's letter will likely come from your
House file, which includes your transcript and copies of all letters
of recommendation on file with the House. This information is enormously
helpful to your tutor; indeed, it is difficult to get a good picture
of your application without it. Before your tutor can access these
materials, however, you must complete and return the Dunster House
Waiver Form, which entitles your tutor to obtain your file and,
if necessary, quote from material therein. (You should have submitted
the Waiver Form as part of the registration
process; if not, you can get it from the downloads
page). Got something in your file that you don't want your tutor
to see? Don't worry -- even after you return the waiver form, under
no circumstances will your pre-law tutor have access to any confidential
disciplinary records in your House file. Only the Resident Dean has
access to these records. If you have questions about what's in your
House file, contact
the Resident Dean directly.
- Second, meet
with your tutor early and often. Your tutor will contact you to
set up your first meeting. If you are an alumna/us
who lives far from Boston, try to arrange several telephone
calls with your tutor at a minimum. At least two or three meetings
will typically be necessary to give the tutor a good basis for writing
your Dean's letter. Try to give your tutor a clear understanding
of what you see as the strengths and weaknesses in your application.
You may also find it helpful to consult with your tutor about other
parts of your application. Don't forget that Dunster keeps these
tutors around to serve as a resource to you. Use them!
- Finally, consider
providing your tutor with a copy of your resume and personal
statement. This information can be immensely helpful to your
tutor. It is also a good opportunity for you to get some feedback
on your personal statement (and on your resume, if you want it!).
Information Must Harvard Disclose?
In the Dean's letter, Harvard has an obligation to disclose whether
you have ever been the subject of formal academic or disciplinary proceedings.
This obligation is limited to formal proceedings (such as proceedings
in front of the Ad Board). Informal measures (for example, an email
to the House from a TF regarding inadequate preparation for tutorial)
do not trigger this obligation and will not be disclosed to law schools.
When there is something in your record that must be disclosed, we try
hard to cast it in a positive (or at least neutral) light and point
out any benefits that have come from the experience. This portion of
your letter is usually added by the Resident Dean, who is typically the
only person involved in the process who has access to confidential disciplinary
If you have questions
about your record, or about what will or will not be disclosed, contact
the Resident Dean.
I See My Dean's Letter?
Generally no. You will have significant input into the composition of
your Dean's letter through conversations with your pre-law tutor. The
final letter, however, often draws on confidential letters of recommendation
in your House file. Unless you have not waived your right of access
to those letters, University policy prevents the House from telling
you what's in them -- and that includes giving you a copy of a Dean's
letter that draws upon them.
If you have questions
about accessing your Dean's letter, contact
the Resident Dean.
an Alumna/us. Can I Still Get a Dean's letter?
Yes -- but there are special considerations
for alumni/ae applicants that you should be sure to review!