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Tips for getting the best letters of recommendation

Posted in: MCAT

May 28, 2019 | by Alexis

When you’re working on your medical school application, you should always think like an evaluator: what are the committees really looking for? What do they want in a letter of recommendation?

The committees aren’t looking for empty letters signed by big names. Nobody will be impressed with the hot shots you’ve met once or twice if they have nothing personal to say about you. Generic letters don’t help the committees to get to know you as a person.

The committees are looking for letters that describe future doctors. In general, they’ll be more impressed by glowing references from lesser known recommenders. Remember that these letters are supposed to help them to get to know you as a person, and to see you as a successful candidate and picture you as a doctor.

Here are some tips to get the best letters of recommendation.

  • Find people who genuinely know you (and genuinely like you). Avoid the big name academics with whom you don’t have a personal relationship. Find the professors, employers, and colleagues who do know you well, and who would be willing to write glowingly about you.
  • Help the references by writing them a list of what you’d like to see in your letter. Remind the writer of who you are, and what you’ve experienced together. Write a list of your personality traits that you believe would make you a great doctor, and back them up with experiences that you’ve shared. This will save them time, and will make you more likely to get precisely the letter that you’d like.
  • Ask your reference to highlight both hard and soft skills. It’s important to show that you know your science, but try to get your references to highlight other skills required of doctors. Ask them to remember your adaptability, your patience, your listening skills, your ability to think on your feet.

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