Letters of recommendation are an important component of professional school applications. Admissions committees use them to gain insight about an applicant from professionals who know them best. Letters of recommendation often include further information about the applicant that is not found elsewhere in the application including traits and characteristics such as interpersonal and communication skills, teamwork and collaboration abilities, level of maturity, and overall capabilities as a future professional.
Letters of Recommendation Guidelines
These are GENERAL guidelines to point you in the right direction. As always, if you have questions or concerns, contact a Health Professions Advisor.
Who to Ask
First of all, plan ahead! It’s never too early to start thinking about who could potentially write you a letter of recommendation. Be sure to meet with professors regularly and take advantage of office hours so that professors can get to know you as a student and future professional. Recommendations will be more powerful from professionals who know you well.
Many programs require a minimum of 3 letters of recommendation from qualified professors or professionals who can speak to the student’s strengths as an applicant. Start by identifying activities that you are extensively involved with and consider asking individuals that have personal knowledge of your character and accomplishments. Think about who can offer an admissions committee a balanced picture of you as an applicant and speak to your ability to navigate through challenging curricula, what you have to offer to the program as a student, and how well suited you are for a career in a given profession.
When to Ask
It is important that you give your writers plenty of time to write your letter of recommendation. 6-8 weeks is generally recommended. Remember that you are requesting letters from busy working professionals that likely need ample time to write a thoughtful and strong letter on your behalf.
How to Ask
Remember that you are requesting a letter of recommendation from a professor or a professional in your desired field. It’s important that you are responsible and professional in the process.
It is recommended that you set up a meeting to ask in person versus requesting a letter of recommendation via email. This is more professional and personal and allows time for you to discuss your strengths as a candidate and your motivation for applying to graduate or professional programs. Remember to give the individual you’re asking the opportunity to say no if they cannot finish your letter on time or if they do not know you well enough to feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation. Remember, you want the strongest honest letters of recommendation possible.
Be sure to provide the person you are asking everything they may need to write you a strong letter of recommendation. This includes but is not limited to: your resume (including extracurricular activities and volunteer involvement), unofficial transcripts, and even your personal statement. You can also print out and give them a copy of the AAMC Letter Writer Guidelines which outlines what most programs are looking for in strong letters of recommendation.
Communicate clearly with your recommenders. Make sure they are aware of the deadline(s) by which the letter should be received and exactly where those letters should be sent. Don’t be afraid to check-in with your recommenders to ask if they have any questions or need any additional information and to remind them of deadlines.
Be absolutely certain to write a thank you note when the letter has been received and stay in touch with your recommenders throughout the application process. They have taken much appreciated time out of their busy schedules to support you and your future so express your gratitude.