Letters of recommendation are an integral component of the medical school application. Anybody can speak highly of themselves, filling pages on why they’d make a great doctor. What makes letters of recommendation so valuable is that each one represents someone else who believes that you have what it takes to pursue a career in healthcare. Each one represents a person who believes in you so much that they are willing write an essay about the remarkable qualities you possess in an attempt to convince the multiple admission committees who will review your application. This is no small thing. You can do a fine job of explaining why you need medicine all by yourself. A great letter of recommendation will explain why medicine needs you. It could very much be the reason why you get an interview invitation. Thus, acquiring letters of recommendation should be done with care and strategy.
Decide who you’re going to ask in advance
If you are going to get a letter of recommendation from a professor that teaches the class you are taking, you should have decided this the day you registered for the course. This is called being proactive rather than reactive. After all, medical schools are pretty clear about who they expect you to collect your letters from. You don’t want to find yourself scrambling at the end of a semester, asking for a letter of recommendation you can’t even be sure will be of decent quality. By choosing a target writer early, you are not only staying organized but also putting your best foot forward long enough for the professor to notice, remember, and write about it with ease. Thus, the professor will be less likely to write the short, generic letter that he writes for everyone he doesn’t know or remember, which is arguably worse than no letter at all.
Show genuine interest in the subject
Your professors love the subject matter they are teaching. They also love when others love it. The worst thing you can do in their class is come off as disinterested. If this course is nothing more than another pre-requisite in the way of your ultimate dreams and you make that known, your presence will be irritating. This is especially relevant for the science professors. They are very much aware that half the students in their lecture hall are pre-med and will never need this course in the depth that it will go into by mid-semester. They are very much aware that many people see the primary purpose of their course to be a weed-out mechanism. Don’t declare yourself to be the pre-med that just needs to “get through” this class. Open up your mind to what you’re learning, and you may surprise yourself. Attend office hours not because it’s part of an algorithm you are following to secure a letter but because you genuinely want to discuss the material further. Have your professor almost wishing you weren’t pre-med because of how passionate you are for their area of expertise. Show them that this class is important to you. They’ll remember your enthusiasm and speak highly of you.
Do well in the course
If a professor is moved to write you a letter of recommendation despite your poor performance in their course, kudos to you. Seriously. It means that you gave that class everything you had and even have something to prove for it. Unfortunately, many professors may not feel comfortable endorsing a student that didn’t do so hot in their class. In addition, many professors with large class sizes find themselves receiving too many requests to handle per semester. As a result, they may have a threshold you must reach to be eligible for a letter of recommendation. Your goal should already be to do well. You’re a pre-med student and GPA matters. But if you plan to ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure you don’t lose the ability to ask when the time comes.
Choose an appropriate time to ask
Timing is key. Ideally, you want to ask after final grades have been submitted to ensure you’re not asking professor that’s way too stressed out and you want to have asked before the next semester starts up to ensure you’re not asking a professor that’s way too preoccupied. Do not wait too long. You want your professor to write about you while you’re still fresh in their minds. Letting multiple semesters pass by before you make your request could result in that short, generic letter.
Be realistic about whether or not you should ask
So, it’s finally about that time to ask for that letter of recommendation you’ve been working hard for. Before you do so, ask yourself the following question:
Would this teacher write me a high-quality letter?
A misconception some students have is that the more letters of recommendation you have come time for medical school applications, the better. While you should definitely aim to get as many letters as possible, it is more important to ensure that you have letters that can actually serve to boost up your profile. Some professors are simply not capable of writing a phenomenal letter and it may not have anything to do with the impression you left on them. Consider their current workload, if they’ve had experience writing letters in the past, and how they’ve responded to other students’ requests. Save yourself the time and energy if you feel certain that the letter will not be a good one.
Choose an appropriate way to ask
If you have been attending office hours religiously, asking in person may be the easiest way. There is nothing wrong with email, assuming that you have developed good rapport with your professor. I highly recommend you start up some correspondence via email prior to this. Your professor likely receives an absurd amount of emails on a daily basis and your email may go weeks without being read if this the first time your email address has landed in his or her inbox.
Follow up! Follow up! Follow up!
If you are truly deserving of this letter, you will stop at nothing to make sure it has been written and submitted. Professors are extremely busy people and they will most likely forget about your letter a few days after agreeing to write it. Do not take it personally. Reminding them about your letter is harmless if you do it politely. Find some kind of excuse to follow up with them a few days after they’ve agreed to write the letter. The instructions of where and how to submit is a great go to. Wait a few weeks before bugging them again. When you do, wish them well and ask about the status of your letter and whether they need any additional information from you.
Good luck getting your letters!
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