Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Do you know whom you will be asking to write you letters of recommendation for medical school? Have you been procrastinating the task of actually approaching them? Are you uncertain about the most effective strategy to get a great recommendation?

Partnering with Your Recommenders to Get the Best Possible Letter

As you know, your recommenders are very busy people! Once they've agreed to write your letter, you want to make this task as quick and easy as possible for them. "If you're going to write a letter that shows you to the best possible advantage," says Don Osborne, president of INQUARTA, "the least you can do is to supply recommenders with all the information they need to do so."

Letters of recommendation are a very important part of your application, and a small amount of time spent organizing the process of obtaining them can go a long way.

First, think deadlines. The truth is, you won't need letters of recommendation until late June or mid-July. On the other hand, once an applicant has submitted the primary application, the most common cause of a delay in his or her admissions process is a tardy recommender. For this reason, you must give your recommenders plenty of time, assist them in any way you can, and create strict deadlines for the completion of their letters.

INQUARTA suggests using the following dates as guidelines:

Early May: Your personal deadline for delivering materials.

Early June: Recommenders' deadline for submitting letters to you.

Prepare a Recommender's Package

For each person you plan to ask for a letter of recommendation, prepare a package that includes the following materials:

  • A personalized cover letter graciously thanking the recommender for their time, and clearly stating your specific deadlines.
  • Your curriculum vitae (a resume describing your academic accomplishments, relevant courseware, honors, and degrees).
  • A copy of the personal statement that you plan to transmit with your AMCAS application.
  • A signed waiver form in which you relinquish your right to read the letter (highly recommended, although there are exceptions)

The following items can be extremely helpful supplements to your package:

  • A paper, thesis, project, research results, or another item specific to your relationship with the recommender. The goal here is to refresh the recommender's memory about you by producing something this person has used in the past to evaluate you in some way.
  • A summary of the themes of your application. Explain what makes you a special or unusual as a candidate. Emphasize those items in your record that are most significant to the application, and also those that you feel the recommender can clarify or elaborate upon most effectively.
  • Tips on what makes a strong letter of recommendation (include at your discretion).

Then add the following items and deliver the package (in person or by mail) so that your recommenders are sure to receive them before May 15:

  • A stamped envelope with the address where the recommender should send the letter.
  • A stamped confirmation postcard (addressed to yourself). This is a simple card that says, "Yes, I sent your letter of recommendation in accordance with your request." When you receive this postcard in the mail, you'll know that the recommender sent the letter.

Plan to call recommenders around the time of their deadline, or just a bit before, reminding them to complete their letters on time.

Prepare thank-you cards for your recommenders; when you receive their confirmation postcards, put the thank-you cards in the mail. Then confirm that the letter was received.

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