It is no secret that your academic performance and MCAT scores are among the most important aspects of the medical school admissions decision; however, having stellar grades and impressive test scores are not the sole deciding elements of admittance. Your letters of recommendation are some of the most persuasive factors. It’s never too early to start thinking about your letters of recommendation and your goal is to make it easy for your professors or employer to write them.
The following are five ways to ensure your chances of getting great letters of recommendation:
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO WRITE YOUR LETTERS
Given that your letters of recommendation are entirely dependent on someone else, you should be giving a lot of thought to whom you will ultimately choose. Select individuals who will be able to speak highly of your academic abilities, motivation to become a doctor, level of maturity, and various accomplishments, and who want to see you get accepted to medical school and become a doctor just as much as you do.
It is also important to know that medical schools may require different types of letters of recommendation, so it is crucial that you develop relationships with individuals who fall into each category. For example, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine requires a recommendation from the applicant’s college premedical committee or an officially designated premedical advisor. If the applicant’s college does not have a premedical advisor or premedical committee, two letters of recommendation are required from faculty members in science departments who have taught the applicant and one non-science faculty member who has also taught the applicant. In addition to the letters indicated, applicants with advanced degrees and/or full time employment are required to submit recommendations from each component of their education and major work experience.
PERFORM EXCEPTIONALLY IN CLASS OR AT WORK
By excelling academically in class or performing above average at work, you are setting the stage for a positive relationship with a potential future letter writer. Medical school is considered to be one of the most academically challenging paths in graduate education and chances are the person who will write your medical school recommendation knows this too. Performing well in your classes will also give your pre-med advisor an indication of your academic level since they are not able to evaluate you in an actual class setting. And if you need someone from your place of work to write a recommendation, go above and beyond what you’re asked. Show initiative and remain committed to your current assignment or project.
TALK ABOUT WANTING TO BECOME A DOCTOR
If you’ve made the decision to become a doctor, then everyone around you should know it. The path to becoming a doctor is not an easy one, and you must be committed and passionate about your decision to dedicate the rest of your life to practicing medicine. When you talk about wanting to become a doctor to those around you, including your professors and colleagues at work, you give them the opportunity to get to know you on a personal level and the ability to understand how serious you are. Soon, they will want to support you in any way they can as you pursue your dreams.
ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME TO WRITE YOUR LETTERS
Writing a recommendation letter is no easy task, and the last thing you want to do is not give your professors or employers enough time to put together strong, thoughtful letters for you. Once you’ve decided from whom you’ll be requesting your letters of recommendation, don’t sabotage your chances of getting a great letter by not giving them the time they need. People are busy, and if you’re requesting one from a professor, chances are you’re not the only one, so give them the respect and courtesy they deserve by providing them with plenty of time (generally 4-6 weeks)to honor your request.
GIVE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELF
In order for the people writing your letters of recommendation to vouch for you on the strongest level, you should put together a comprehensive file that will give them the opportunity to speak on your behalf from as many different angles as possible. Here are a few items to include in your file:
- Cover Letter – In an introductory note to the people writing your letters of recommendation, briefly remind them what the letter of recommendation is for and thank them for agreeing to write the letter for you. Be sure to include your contact information so they can reach you if they have any questions or need additional information from you. Also, give them your deadline for receiving their letters.
- Résumé/CV – Prepare a résumé of your academic and extracurricular accomplishments, honors and awards, relevant work experience, research or clinical activities, and hobbies. When listing your experiences, make sure to highlight duties and tasks that showcase relevant knowledge and skills, leadership abilities, and other qualities that may help paint a well-rounded picture of you.
- Essay – If you have completed your AMCAS essay or at least a draft of it, you may want to share it. This will give them the opportunity to learn more about you and your desire to become a doctor in ways they may not already know. It may help give them a greater sense of why you are pursuing a career in medicine and possibly give them a chance to make a more meaningful connection that would have otherwise been left uncovered.
- Statement of Purpose – If you’re not comfortable providing a copy of your AMCAS essay, you may want to consider putting together a shortened version of what many other graduate and professional schools call a Statement of Purpose. You can use this document to give a general sense of the type of schools you are applying to and why you believe they would be best for you. Try to write at least two compelling paragraphs so that the person writing your recommendation can have more than enough information to endorse you in the strongest way possible.
- Unofficial Transcript, MCAT Scores – Providing your unofficial transcript and MCAT scores just confirms what the person writing your letter of recommendation should already know about your academic capabilities. Professors will have the opportunity to assess your overall achievement in various studies (science and non-science) and be reminded of the grade you received in their courses. Giving the people writing your letters of recommendation a chance to see your transcript and test scores provides evidence of your overall qualifications for the study of medicine and solid ground for them to build up a case in your favor.