Online Application Deliveries: If Only We Had the ‘Easy’ Button

Dossier & Portfolio | Letter Writer

We want your Interfolio Dossier account to be a happy place, where you can manage everything in one, convenient place. Unfortunately, external factors sometimes conspire against us, and the rise of a seemingly countless variety of different online application systems in recent years has presented a particularly vexing problem. In many ways, online applications make life easier for both applicants and the institutions to which they’re applying. However, the process for submitting confidential letters of recommendation has actually gotten more complex in most systems.

Rather than simplifying the letter submission process, most systems instead place an even greater burden on both their applicants and those writing letters for them. Letter writers love Interfolio because we allow them to follow one consistent process, rather than needing to have them upload letters to a variety of different systems. So, despite some institutional roadblocks, we do our best to help you and your letter writers out.

If you’ve had us upload a letter of recommendation to an online application system in the past, you know that it’s, well, a process. With a little bit of duct tape and gum, we’ve developed a solution involving custom document e-mail addresses, a unique notification system, and a whole lot of human touch in order to accommodate as many of these upload requests as possible.

We began formally offering Online Application Delivery as a standard delivery option in November 2009. Since then, we’ve processed more than 200,000 individual letters of recommendation on behalf of our applicants and volume has only been rising. In 2012, we submitted almost 100,000 letters of recommendation to third party (a.k.a. not Interfolio) online application systems. More than 75% of those were processed in October, November and December, which averages out to 1,200 a (working) day!

So what do we actually do when we receive an Online Application Delivery request? Why is our delivery timeline for these requests so different than other electronic options, such as e-mail? What’s with the funky price? Grab a chair and your beverage of choice.

Since every application is different (different provider, different questions, different requirements, etc…), it really does vary, not just by institution, not just by department, but by individual program or position. Here’s a general visualization of what we typically do, on top of our standard quality control processes that ensure the right documents go to the right places for the right applicants.


And that’s just for one letter of recommendation. Since most applications require multiple letters, we typically rinse and repeat for each document that needs to be uploaded to a particular application. Compare that to our other delivery options, where we verify the destination, and quality check the documents before sending them on their merry way.

In fulfilling these types of requests, we need to make sure that we aren’t violating FERPA (we can’t upload a confidential letter to a system that makes the letter available to the applicant), we aren’t misrepresenting our role in this process as a proxy for the recommender, and we aren’t supplying information that we are not legally or ethically able to provide (basically, answers to any subjective questions).

What are some other roadblocks?

  • Broken links in the requests we receive from applications
  • Third-party application site is down (happened during Hurricane Sandy)
  • File type limitations
  • Character limitations for systems that require the letter to be composed in a text box
  • Long upload times – we’ve had scenarios where uploads have taken hours, even overnight, around deadline time

Despite all of that complexity, we are actually able to fill an overwhelming majority of the requests that we receive. In cases where we can’t upload via the system’s preferred process, our Support Team will always try to find another way to submit those letters, if at all possible. However, there are situations when we just can’t upload.

We’re always looking for ways to make this process better. It’s not ideal for you, and it’s not ideal for us. In the meantime, we’ll keep doing what we can to get your letters to where they need to be. It’s not quite “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night,” but we’d like to think it’s close.