Choosing recommenders

I once heard from an admissions committee member that their school graded candidates by a rubric like the following: 25% MCAT/GPA, 25% Interview, 25% Application, and 25% Letter of Recommendations.

Letters of recommendation (LORs) are significant portions of your application. Choosing someone to write your letter is as important as acknowledging what will be in the message. Who you choose is a reflection of your prudence; you need to pick someone who writes letters well AND can also write you a strong letter.

The former is harder to decipher, but hopefully, your relationship with the possible recommender can help you decide. (Protip: When at a loss about their writing skills, peruse some of your email exchanges, their publications, their feedback/comments on your assignments, etc…It’s also worth mentioning that at most colleges, LORs are part of the professors’ job description.)

The latter is easy to pinpoint. The longer you’ve known them, the better. The stronger the relationship, the better. You want to ask someone who can tell a story of how you’ve grown and cultivated your interest in medicine. You also want to ask someone with whom you’ve kept in touch because it will show otherwise (Protip: You could try to get back in touch before you ask for the letter, but be genuine about it as it will show otherwise).

I had been lucky to be paired with a pre-med advisor at my college. The advisor would be in charge of drafting a committee letter on my behalf. They advised submitting only 4-6 letters (with six being preferable only if you’ve taken a gap year). You can send more, but just if you can ensure those letters will be as high quality as your LORs may be only as strong as the weakest link.

Preferably, you should have two letters from science faculty, one or two letters from non-science faculty, and one or two from work/internship supervisors. None from family friends, and surprisingly, none from doctors you shadowed.

Because I was across the world, I emailed my professors/mentors in mid-March to ask if they would be willing to support me in my application. Had I been near campus, I would have hoped to meet in person to ask.

In the end, I decided to ask for six letters:

  • Science Person #1: My research supervisor (and thesis advisor) of four years;
  • Science Faculty #2: Professor for two classes and thesis advisor;
  • Non-science Faculty: Professor for three classes and major advisor;
  • Non-science Faculty: Professor for a critical class that inspired my bioethics journalism and my gap year project*;
  • Work Supervisor: Dean of the office, in which I worked for four years, and of a council on which I served;
  • Internship Supervisor: Mentor of my meaningful work experience, which propelled my interest in global health, and someone with whom I remained in contact after I left the position

*I didn’t ask anyone from my gap year, because I neither stayed in one place long enough for someone to know me well nor worked for anyone in a capacity they could shed light on my candidacy for medical school.

The email I sent to my research supervisor looked like the following. It may not be perfect, but feel free to be inspired by it.

Dear _______,

I hope this email finds you well! I’m excited to be applying to medical school this summer and was wondering if you’d feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf. Having met me in my first year, I think you could tell a story about who I am as a student and person. My research experience with you was pivotal and defining during my Wellesley career, as you mentored and shared your wisdom with me through highs and lows.

If you’re willing to provide a letter for me, I will provide the following supporting materials: 1) my transcript, 2) my CV, 3) a draft of my personal statement, and 4) the AMCAS recommendation letter guidelines. Recommendation letters are usually due by May 26th.

Thank you for your time and consideration! I look forward to hearing from you.

Warmly,
Amal

Hope this helps! Best of luck 🙂

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