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Obtaining letters of recommendation for health profession schools

Letters of recommendation are a critical element in the health professions application process. Schools value the perspectives of people who have observed your work and can speak to your abilities and personality. Here are some tips about obtaining letters of recommendation: 

  • Choose your recommenders carefully. A person who knows you well can write a more substantial and helpful letter than someone who hardly knows you. In choosing between an individual who taught you in a small class versus someone with a famous name or title but who cannot write a personal letter, choose the former. Health professional schools typically require a minimum of three letters of recommendation. The exact number of letters will be determined by the specific profession. It is highly recommended to have at least one recommendation from a faculty member who has taught you in the sciences, and one from a faculty member who has taught you in the humanities or social sciences. Others who may write useful letters include research advisors, administrators, faculty advisors, athletic coaches, supervisors of campus or summer jobs, and those who have known you in volunteer positions. A recommendation letter from a health professional holding the degree that the applicant is pursuing is highly recommended.
  • When asking for the letter, make an appointment to meet in person if at all possible. Provide a copy of your resume and personal statement, and be prepared to talk about your future goals and past achievements.
  • Make sure that you allow the person the option of saying NO. You want to have strong letters and if a person is somewhat uncomfortable writing for you or does not have enough time, it is likely that the result will be a short and weak letter. It is much better to have someone be honest with you at the start, so that you can find another recommender who will be more enthusiastic. You can determine this by asking the person if s/he feels comfortable writing a strong letter on your behalf.
  • Give your recommenders plenty of advance notice and time to write a good letter of recommendation (a month or even two). Make sure your recommenders know of your deadline as determined by your Centralized Application Service or individual programs. If your letters are not received by the deadline it may delay the processing of your application.
  • Be sure to give your recommenders friendly reminders about your letter, but do not pester them. Remember they will be writing a letter reflecting on many aspects of you — which includes behavior and interpersonal interactions! 
  • Write a thank you note to each recommender for taking the time to write you a letter in support of your candidacy.
  • Inform your recommenders when you have decided where you will be attending school and thank them again for their assistance and support.