Reference File Services FAQ's





When and how do I start a file?

If applying for a job:

If you are a current student, you must be within three quarters of graduation or completion of a degree program at WWU before starting a file. If you are applying to educational institutions, we suggest you start your file before you leave for your student teaching experience.

To start your file, the following must be done:

  • Complete Electronic Sign-Up Form (to start service)
  • Complete Declaration of Option Waiver (allows you to choose a confidential or non-confidential file)
  • Pay relevant fees (current fee schedule)

In order for your file to be "complete" and ready for mailing, the above must be done and the following be in your file:

  • Candidate Information Form
  • At least one reference letter OR your student teaching evaluation
  • Optional: WWU transcript or transcripts from other schools where you completed another degree

If applying for graduate programs:

Application for graduate programs usually begins one year in advance to admission; therefore, you should start your file one year before completion of your degree and/or the start of your program. For instance if you graduate in the spring of 2013 and wish to enter medical school in the fall of that year (2013), your application/admission process will begin as early as June of 2012.

To start your file, the following must be done:

  • Complete Electronic Sign-Up Form (to start service)
  • Complete Declaration of Option Waiver (allows you to choose a confidential or non-confidential file)
  • Pay relevant fees (current fee schedule)

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How do I submit my Reference File forms?



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Should I start a confidential (closed) or non-confidential (open) file and can I change?

In accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, you may choose to establish a confidential (closed) or non-confidential (open) reference letter file. If you establish a closed file, our office can never allow you to read the letters of reference in your file. (However, your letter writer is free to show you the letter they write.) With an open file, you can read all of the letters in your file. When making this decision, consider what is customary in your field and the preferences of your letter writers. Career Services staff can not review letters for the purpose of rank-ordering or otherwise selecting certain letters over others on the candidate's behalf.

If at a later date you wish to change your file from confidential to non-confidential or vice versa, contact the Reference File Office. Additional information on how to change your option is also available on the Declaration of Option Waiver form.

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Is there ever a time when I may read my confidential letters of reference?

There are no circumstances in which we may send your letters directly to you or allow you to read them. We must honor the letter writers who write letters knowing the contents will not be revealed. Some writers may, however, choose to reveal the contents to you directly.

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How many letters of reference should I have in my file?

We recommend a minimum of three letters if you are using your file for pre-employment purposes. You can have a maximum of eight letters in your file at any given time. If applying to graduate schools, review application materials for guidelines on quantity.

If you want to remove letters from your file, we need your written authorization to remove them from your file. Just write us a note that says, "Please remove the following letters from my reference file" and list the letter or letters you would like removed. At your request, letters will either be removed OR destroyed. Letters removed from your file are just moved to the back of your file and are not sent to employers.

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Who should I ask for letters of reference?

A good reference letter should be able to inform the recipient about your goals and your aspirations in applying; therefore, it is important to select a reference writer who knows you and clearly understands your aspirations. Such individuals will be able to write about you in a detailed and persuasive manner. The person you choose depends largely on the goals pertaining to your application. In general, professors and supervisors are more appropriate choices than relatives, friends or pastors. The most appropriate letter writers for teaching interns are typically the applicant's co-operating teacher and/or the school principal. If applying for graduate programs, professors and professionals are commonly used but review your application materials for guidelines on sources. Some programs might require letters from specific disciplines; for example, medical schools typically require two science faculty letters (usually one from Chemistry and one from Biology).

When asking someone to write a reference letter, make an appointment to talk in person, if possible. Discussing your plans for the future helps the evaluator write a more informed letter. Bring papers or exams that you wrote for meetings with professors. You may want to provide a letter stating your skills, qualities, experiences, and activities, while including your major, minor, grade point average, dates of employment and/or course enrollment. Be sure to provide the correct spelling of your name, your address and the address where the letter needs to be mailed. It is important that the writer understands exactly who will receive the letter and in what manner the letter is to be transmitted. Specify whether a generic letter can be written that is applicable to a broad range of recipients or if each letter should be addressed to a specific institution. Ask directly if the writer can write a strong letter for you; if you sense that a letter will be ambivalent or bland, it is better to ask someone else.

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What should the evaluator say in the letter?

The purpose of a reference letter is to provide the reader with an account of who you are and how you will contribute to the enhancement of the organization, company, school district or graduate program. In measuring your strengths and weaknesses, the letter writer will share with the reader your personal achievements, intellectual qualifications, communication skills, and overall potential, among other qualities.

CLICK HERE for suggested content and layout.

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What if you receive letters of reference BEFORE I start my file?

In the event letters are received and your file is not "complete", those materials will be kept one year from date they arrive in the Center. Unless notified otherwise, the letters will be destroyed after that time, except for letters written by faculty on the WWU campus. Those will be returned to the writer with an accompanying explanation.

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What address should my letter of reference writers use for mailing in their letters?

Western Washington University, Career Services Center, Old Main 280, 516 High Street, Bellingham, WA 98225-9002

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Can my letter of reference writers email their letters?

Yes. Please have your writers email letters (as a pdf document) to careers@wwu.edu. Writer signature required on ALL letters.

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How can I find out what's currently in my file?

To find out what's been received by our office you may:

  • Go to our web site and LOG IN to see a listing of the contents of your reference file
  • Email careers@wwu.edu
  • Phone our office at 360.650.2980

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How do I request my file to be sent?

You may login to the online request service via our website. You can also email careers@wwu.edu, call 360.650.2980 or come by our office in Old Main 280.

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Can I have my file emailed or faxed?

You may request to have your file emailed ($4 fee) to an employer or school, if this is an option. Please provide the email address when submitting your request.
We can fax your file ($15 special handling fee) if this is acceptable to the employer or school to which they are being sent.

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How soon after I make the request will my file be sent?

Allow two business days from the day you make your request to when it leaves our office. Urgent requests require special handling and additional fees apply.

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How long is my file available to me?

When you initially set up your reference file with our office, you designate a six consecutive month period during which you would like your file to be "active" (actively utilized).

If you renew your reference file service with our office, you may activate your file for a four consecutive month period.

Note: The reference file is the property of Western Washington University. The reference file is kept for 7 years after your graduation date if you are using the file for the purpose of admission to graduate or professional school programs. If you are using your file for prospective employment purposes within the public/private school system, the file is kept for 35 years after your graduation date.

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What if I need to renew my service?

If you are an alum wishing to renew your reference file, print the applicable forms from our website, and mail along with a $35 fee. Click here for additional information.

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What if I have a question you haven't answered here?

Feel free to contact us at 360.650.2980 or careers@wwu.edu.

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Page Updated 07.18.2014