Each semester, for every class you have, one of your goals, aside from getting good grades, should be to develop a strong relationship with your professor. And you should already know why this is. Letters of recommendation are an important part of the medical school application. Aside from the type of student you are on paper, schools want to learn about aspects of your potential that they cannot assess from how you scored on the MCAT or grades you’ve received. Your recommendation writer will most likely be asked to describe your character, personality and temperament as valued by medical school admissions committees. As it turns out, top medical school candidates give this part of the application process the same level of attention as the personal statement.

Since you’re going to need at least three letters of recommendation you need to make sure that you have an airtight plan for what you’re going to do to get them. And not only are you looking for recommendations from your science courses, you will also want to get at least one recommendation from a professor teaching a non-science course, like humanities or social science. Obtaining strong letters of recommendation will require advance planning. Here are some ways to be proactive about getting the recommendations that you need to apply to medical school.

Get good grades. This should go without saying, but if you do well in a particular course, chances are the professor teaching the course will be more agreeable to writing a recommendation for you than if you performed below-average in the class. Getting good grades can give you the confidence you need to even request a recommendation in the first place. You can approach you recommend-er with you head up knowing you performed well in their course. Many applicants believe that if they get good grades, they’ll get a recommendation. This is so far from the truth. While it will make the atmosphere for requesting a letter less awkward, getting good grades alone will not be enough to get a professor to write a recommendation for you.

Go to office hours. Visiting your professor during his/her office hours will help establish a positive interaction. Stopping by your professor during office hours gives them the opportunity to get to know you on a one-on-one basis. Your best letters will come from professors who know you well. In addition to going to office hours, professors can get to know you if you speak up in class and ask questions. When you go to office hours it is important to have a reason for your visit. Otherwise it will just be an annoyance and waste of time for the professor if you’re just “stopping by to say hello.” Have a reason for visiting – whether it’s asking for clarification on a concept you can’t get the grasp of or having a discussion about a research project that you learned your professor is involved with. Be interesting- be yourself and don’t hide who you are as a person and be interested – “Google” your professor’s name and do a quick background check on what projects your professor may be involved in and ask questions, they’ll like this a lot – who doesn’t like to talk about themselves.

Give ample time. Your goal is to make this process as easy and seamless as can be for your recommenders. You just want to make their job easy! This means giving them ample time to write your recommendation. As you know, your professors may have very busy schedules so it is very important that you give your professors at least 2 months to write your letters. And don’t dare wait until the end of the semester to ask for your letter because you will most likely not be the only student requesting a recommendation. Giving your professors ample time will also work in your favor because they can spend more time writing a quality letter and won’t feel rushed to put something together because of time constraints.

Take more than one class taught by a professor. If you take a more than one course taught by the same professor, and get a good grade, this is a sure tight way to get a good recommendation. Not only will they be able to see first-hand that you are capable of excelling academically, they may also get the opportunity to learn more about you on a personal level.  Although sometime not available to you until your senior year, you may also want to look into taking an independent study course which will give you the opportunity to get to know a professor on a one-on-one basis.

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