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Charting A Course to Medical School: PART VII

Letters of Recommendations

How do you go about getting a letter of recommendation from a professor when you are only one student out of a class of a few hundred? That is one of the questions most commonly asked by pre-medical students coming from large undergraduate institutions. There are many ways to circumvent this situation and as you read on, please keep in mind that these are generalizations. your particular situation and methods of obtaining letters of recommendation may be different.

In larger classes, approach the professor near the beginning of the term and explain to him or her your situation. That way they know who you are and may pay special attention to your performance in class. Also, make an effort to attend your professor's office hours to ask questions about material that you do not understand. After the term is completed and your grade is determined, approach the professor again about writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Do not feel nervous or intimidated. You probably are not the first one who has asked him or her for a letter of recommendation. They will most likely ask for a copy of your CV (curriculum vitae) or resume, and maybe even a copy of your personal essay. Some professors like to sit down with you and ask you about your interests, activities, and, of course, your desire to become a physician. With all of this information, they will write a letter of recommendation for you and send it either to the medical school or the preprofessional committee. Needless to say, you must let them know where you want it sent.

In smaller classes, it is much easier for you to get to know a professor. In addition, the professor of a small class is much more likely to remember who you are and how you performed in class, i.e., participation, essays, questions, etc. They also may ask for a copy of your CV and personal essay because they may not know about your life outside of that particular class. In most cases, schools will also accept letters of recommendation from teaching assistants if they know you better than a professor of a certain class, that is, if a professor of the same class would not be able to give a comparable evaluation.

In addition, letters of recommendation can come from a large number of fields and are not restricted to academia. Although a few letters from the basic sciences are generally preferred, your other letters of recommendation can come from other departments, i.e., environmental sciences to English literature. Letters of recommendation can also be written by former (or present) employers and volunteer supervisors. You should try to get letters of recommendation which highlight your strengths in several areas. Letters from friends, family members, and politicians are usually not a good idea.

Also, here are a couple of tips to help you with your recommendations:

When asking for a recommendation, ask "Can you write me a strong letter of recommendation for medical school?" Most recommenders will be straightforward with you, and you should obviously not ask for a recommendation for someone who can't answer "Yes" to this question.

Approximately 2 weeks after you ask for your recommendation, send your recommender a Thank-You letter. This should be done for 2 reasons: 1) It's the polite thing to do and 2) It may serve as a reminder to any recommender who may have been too busy lately to complete your recommendation.

***Check with your pre-professional committee and with the medical schools to ensure that your letters are being sent where they need to be sent when they need to be sent. It is YOUR responsibility to see that everything in your application is accurate and complete, not your premedical advisors' responsibility.***

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