Persuasive letters of recommendation can have an enormous impact on your application. Unfortunately, many applicants either undervalue them or do not take the proper steps to ensure they’re receiving strong letters. We want to provide some helpful tips to make sure you don’t make these same mistakes.
The people that write your letters should know you very well.
A common mistake people make is focusing on the writer’s position or title and not factoring in the personal relationship. This can lead to the reception of a mediocre, bland, boring letter and ultimately a missed opportunity to stand out. If you are asking for a letter that is important to your future, do your best to ensure that the writer is invested in your success as well.
Therefore, do your best to cultivate relationships with your professors and mentors. That way, when they write about you, they will be willing to make sure your letter is strong enough to potentially open doors for you.
Start your process early and maintain consistency.
The problem with waiting is that your letter writer may forget about some of your important qualities. Therefore, it’s generally best to ask for a letter of recommendation as soon as possible after your interaction with your potential letter writer is over.
If you are requesting a professor, ask them after you have finished taking their class or the next quarter or semester. You want to make sure that your professor remembers you when he or she writes your letter. If you took the class much earlier than the year you were planning to apply, you could store the letter using a letter service like Interfolio.
You also want to treat every professor, supervisor, or physician you shadow as someone who may write you a letter. Having this mindset will push you to study harder in each class, give incentive for you to go to office hours and get to know the writer, or go above and beyond during your shadowing and clinical experiences. The writer will take notice of this and reward your persistence with a strong letter.
When you ask for a letter, be sure to provide information that will help the writer.
Even if you have a good relationship with the writer, they may not know everything about you. Therefore, you must provide additional information that can strengthen your letter. We recommend that you provide your curriculum vitae (CV), your unofficial transcript, a personal statement, and information about the program you’re applying to. Also, be sure to ask them if they will need any other information to help them write a strong letter.
Do not rush your writer if you can help it.
This means you need to ask for a letter early. We recommend that you make an initial request 5-6 months before the deadline but 3-4 months before at the latest. The writer is doing you a favor and asking early shows that you respect their time. You avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your writer and the risk of receiving a mediocre letter. When you ask, discuss and agree on the submission date as well.
Ask for your letter in person
In regards to asking for a letter, we highly recommend that you do so in person to avoid a delay in response. Schedule a time to meet with them, dress professionally, and speak respectfully. It is also essential to ask the individual if they would be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation; it’s important to be intentional. If they say yes, be prepared to give them any information they’ll need; do so early in case they may forget or get too busy. If they say no, simply thank them for their time. Do not burn this bridge by being rude because you never know when you may see them again. However, if you need to send an email, keep it short and straightforward. Let them know how you know them and what they’ve contributed to you, tell them your desire to attend medical school, request a strong letter, then thank them for taking the time to read the email.
Again, ask for a strong letter.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Doing so can result in two things; the first is that the writer appreciates and rewards your intentionality. The second is that the writer declines to write your letter, as they may feel they may not know you well enough or are unable to write good strong letters for some reason. No matter the outcome, be grateful. With the first, you’ll receive a phenomenal letter. With the second, you dodged a bullet.