MedEdits | Medical School Admissions Consulting

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Letters of Recommendation: How Do You Ask?

If you are applying to medical school, you should be thinking now about who will write your letters of reference. Many clients ask me about the best way to ask for a letter of reference. Like most things, there is no "one size fits all" answer to this question.

For example, last week a former resident asked me to write a letter of reference on his behalf. Since I know this resident well, I did not feel the need to meet with him and simply asked him to send me an up to date curriculum vitae (CV) so I could review his more recent accomplishments and remind myself of when he graduated!

So, the manner in which you ask for letters of reference should be individualized. If you don't know your letter writer well, call them or their assistant to schedule a meeting. At this meeting, which could be in person or over the phone, ask if they would be willing to write you a strong letter of reference. The key word here is strong; hopefully, if someone feels they cannot write you an excellent letter of reference, they will be honest and tell you this.

At this meeting, ask your letter writer what materials they would like from you to make this task easier for them. Consider sending your letter writer an up to date CV via email before your meeting. Many things you read advise bringing a "portfolio" to your letter writer that includes your CV, personal statement and any additional materials that might be helpful. Since most people in academics are now accustomed to web based applications, they prefer electronic versions of all documents rather than hard copies but, again, ask your letter writer about their preference.

If your letter writer asks for a personal or a brief autobiographical statement, do not feel that you must provide what will be the final draft of your statement; the letter writer is asking for your statement to obtain a more complete sense of who you are which will allow them to write a more substantial letter.

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