One thing a lot of pre-medical students fear is knowing how to get letters of recommendation. If this is you then don’t worry, I was in your boat. I wondered how any of my teachers would be willing to like me enough to write me a recommendation for medical school, but I managed to get some solid letters from some great people. I’m here to give you “the What”, “the Why”, “the Who”, “the When” and “the How” with regards to letters of recommendation (LOR’s). I also want to address a big concern many students have.
What exactly are letters of recommendation? Letters of recommendation essentially are a written testament, from a third party individual, on the kind of person (student, employee, volunteer, etc.) you are. Pretty straightforward, right?
Why would I want to get letters of recommendation for graduate school? Like I stated above, they are written statements from others that explain how great you are and why a particular school should let you in. Also every graduate school, at least that I am aware of, requires that when you apply that you send them letters of recommendation.
Who should I ask for a letters of recommendation? College professors that know you well, employers that like you, service leaders that you have volunteered under or physicians that you have shadowed. These people have great positions within the community and their words carry a lot of weight with the admissions committees. Most medical schools require that you at least obtain three letters from college professors (two science based and one non science based) and the rest are optional. I was able to get letters from three of my college professors, one from my research PI and one from a service leader that I volunteered under.
Make sure you have a good relationship with whoever it is so that they would know you enough to write a meaningful letter on your behalf. You should NOT ask any family members to write a letter for you. I’m sure your mom could write an amazing letter of recommendation, but unfortunately her words carry no significance to the mdical school admissions.
When should I obtain my letters of recommendation? This is a trickier question to answer because it is all in who you are asking and the timing of it. Make sure that you at least give them 4 to 5 months before letters are to be submitted, before you ask. Your professors and leaders are busy people and it is not fair to tell someone last minute because they may just say “no” simply for lack of time.
How do I get a letter of recommendation from a particular individual? First thing is to make a good impression on them. If they are your professor, it is wise that you actively participate in class whether it is to ask questions or to make comments in class discussion. I always tried to make it a point to talk with my professors in their offices so that they could get to know me as an individual. Also make sure that you get at least an A- in the class (you might get a teacher to write a letter for you is it is in the B range). If the person is a service leader or an employer, then work hard and be a team player.
Once you’ve established a good relationship, just ask. Make sure that when you do, that you have a copy of your personal statement essay, an unofficial transcript and a CV/resume showing them all of the things that you have done. Make sure to schedule a time to meet them to talk about a letter of recommendation opportunity and so that you can give them the above mentioned materials. Be sure to ask in-person if at all possible because it reflects well on you.
If They Say “No”
What if they say “no” to writing a letter for me? All is not lost, in fact, you should be appreciative that they said “no.” When professors (other people) say that, they are not saying, “I do not like you” or “I think you are a terrible person,” it usually means that they do not know you well enough or could not write a strong enough letter for you. A big thing about letters of recommendation is that they need to be strong. A careless and not well thought out letter can reflect really bad on your application when admissions read it.
I hope that this helps!