Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letter of recommendation: who and how to ask

It is nearing summer and my friends are starting their application processes. To think that a year ago I completed my undergraduate degree & was anxiously looking onto this gap year… To everyone who is graduating or starting their applications, good luck! Standing on the edge of something can be terrifying but so exciting.

Let’s talk about letters of recommendation. By rule of thumb, you should waive your right to view the letter. Implication is that your letter writers will be honest in whatever they say.

Since I wanted my health professions office to write a committee letter, I met with my letter writers early before spring break. I had gotten to know our health professions advisor pretty well and I had three professors who I thought would be able to write great letters on my behalf.

Your letter writers do not all have to be science professors. Different schools require different letters but one should be a science professor and the rest someone in your major or a mentor.

My three writers all turned out to be science professors: 1) My research mentor of two years: I had also taken a graduate level class with him with a big presentation and writing component  2) A professor I'd TA-ed for: Since this was protein lab, we spent long hours chatting 3) My DC friend: Before he was a friend he was my boss- I actually thought of him last. Since we had long conversations about my career and hopes for the future, I thought he would round out my pool of writers nicely. The dentist I shadowed agreed to write a letter for me as well.

I asked them if they would write me a letter as part of my dental school application. I think this initial approach is the most difficult. Once they said yes (whew!) I set up a longer meeting with my writers. For each of the writers, I prepared a folder containing:

- My resume
- My college transcript
- A draft of my personal statement
- A cover letter

In my “cover letter” I emphasized a few points I wanted each writer to focus on. At this meeting I spoke to them in person about these points (but I wanted them to have it in writing to refer back to). I kept in touch with them throughout the semester and before everyone left for summer break, reminded them of the deadline.

(This post is an excuse for me to pepper in images of my favorite teachers from two amazing movies- Dead Poets Society and An Education)

*You should not delay submitting AADSAS even if your letters are missing. Your application may be deemed incomplete by the committee, but AADSAS still processes them (which takes time in itself). So go ahead and submit your application first. AADSAS will chase your application later.


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