Getting A Letter of Recommendation

17 May

Getting a letter of recommendation from a professor, lab advisor, or coach for your medical school applications may seem like a daunting task. Students drag their feet with asking for a letter, some afraid they’ll offend the person or cause them more work by asking. You shouldn’t worry, most writers will be more than happy to write you a letter if they know you well.

Having had to ask for letters of recommendation for almost every graduate school application possible at this point(MS, PhD, and MD) I think I have a few tips to share. 😉 Here are a few things to keep in mind when you go to ask for your next application. This shouldn’t be a painful process for either party.

1. Give your letter writer enough time. Most professors and other professionals that will be writing your letters of recommendations are busy people with many demands on their time. They will often take longer to write that letter for you then they say(though this is not always the case). Be sure to give them at least a month to get the letter to you by your deadline. For some professors that you know are habitually late with things, give them more time. You may be surprised at the turn around time. I think I waited about three weeks for the last letter of mine to come in during one application cycle.

2. Follow up with an email after two weeks. If you still haven’t heard anything after two weeks send an email or stop by and see the professor to give them a gentle nudge as a reminder that you’re still waiting on that letter. This was the key for me in reminding my one letter writer. They got me the letter I needed a couple of days later, along with an apology that it had slipped their mind and a thank you for reminding them. Again just remember that your letter writers are most likely busy people and your letter is probably not at the top of their priority list.

3. Make sure you are prepared to ask them in the first place. When you ask for a letter of recommendation be sure that your end of the bargain has been met as well. You should have a packet ready for each of your letter writers. This packet is designed to end the back and forth requests for information. Each packet should include:

  • An up-to-date copy of your Resume/CV
  • Your personal statement
  • Additional evaluation forms, etc. that a school requires to be sent with the letter.
  • A list of the schools your are applying to that need a letter(usually all of them) and the deadlines for each one.
  • The mailing address and the website address of each school (helps the more technology challenged writers find the school’s site).
  • Addressed and stamped enveloped for each school.
  • Information about electronic submissions (which leads me to my next point…)

4. Sign up for an electronic submission service. If the schools you are applying to accept a confidential electronic submission, than by all means sign up for it! It will make your life so much easier. Your writers will thank you since they won’t have to print off and mail 30 copies of your letter. They simply upload the letter to the site. I used Interfolio for my letters. I think it was something like $40 for three years subscription service. Your letters are submitted confidentially, and instructions are sent via email to each of your writers.

5. Thank your letter writers! Write them a thank you note and/or get them a little token of your appreciation. A gift card to a favourite restaurant or something else will make sure they know you are thankful for the time they took to write your letter. Be sure to let them know how your applications/interviews all turn out as well!

That’s all I’ve got for now! Hope this gets you off on the right foot in getting those letters of recommendation you need for grad school or med school. Any advise on securing those letters of recommendation that I missed? Leave a comment! Cheers!


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5 responses to “Getting A Letter of Recommendation

  1. Dawn

    May 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful advice! Most websites I read on how to get reference letters always give some vague sentence about how you should go about it. I really like the idea of a package to send to the referrees. It makes things so much more organized and streamlined. I’ll definitely use it in my own application to schools!

    • Flustered Grad

      May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Thank you for the compliment, and for taking the time to comment! I am glad you found the post helpful. 🙂 The packets saved me so much time with getting letters together for PhD schools.

  2. Ryan

    May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks for all this advice! I’ve been looking to find a post that details just this information for awhile. I’ll let you know how my LOR requests go.

    • Flustered Grad

      May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      No problem! Figured I could lend a little advice on the matter after seeing your tweet last night. Hopefully those letters will zip right back to you! *knocks on wood*


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