Never underestimate the power of a good letter of recommendation. This is a KEY aspect of your application – it can be the deciding factor for an interview or not. With this in mind, it’s important to ask people who you know will write an OUTSTANDING letter of recommendation; yes a stellar, outstanding letter of recommendation. Now most med schools require a committee letter, which is a letter of recommendation from the pre-med committee of your undergrad institution. For my particular undergrad, there is a specific process to obtaining that committee letter. It’s an application process on it’s own – you need to turn in certain materials, there’s an interview, a draft of your AMCAS app needs to be submitted, and of course your letters of recommendation needs to be on file.
Now for letters of recommendation, it’s a minimum of three and a maximum of six. Guess what your girl opted for? Six. Yes, playing NO games. Now the six recommendations came from:
- Biology Professor: I took his class my freshman year and received a “B”. He also wrote my Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) letter of recommendation. Granted it’s been 4 years since I took his course, but I knew his letter would be positive.
- Brain and Behavior Professor: This letter is my “least sure” letter. I took the course the summer of my junior year and also received a “B” for my final grade. I wasn’t incredibly close to the professor but immediately after the course ended, I asked her for a letter, so she wouldn’t forget about me. I’m confident the letter is positive, but I can’t say that it’s incredibly strong.
- Foreign language/ African studies professor: Had this professor for all 4 years. He knows me very well and is undoubtedly one of my biggest supporters. I have no doubts that this is a strong letter.
- Senior thesis advisor: He was department chair of my second major and I was close to him all 4 years of undergrad. I am confident this is a strong letter. He also asked to see a draft of my personal statement so it could guide his recommendation letter. Perfect!
- My current boss/ lab director: Since I’m working full time, it only makes sense to have a letter from my current boss. He’s also a physician – score! Again, I’m confident this is a strong letter. He’s aware that I’m hard working and knows how passionate I am about tackling health disparities and going into medicine. Most importantly, as a physician, he knows what qualities the admission committees are looking for.
- My previous track coach: So I asked the head coach of the women’s track team. Now even though I left the team my sophomore year, I maintained my relationship with the coach. Every year, I participated in the annual body building contest (a fundraiser for the team), and because we both work out in the morning (6 or 7am), we always caught up at the gym. So when I asked for a letter of recommendation, he was excited and more than willing. Another example why it’s important to maintain relationships. He’s been a witness to my determination both on the track and off the track. Again, I’m confident this is a strong letter.
The most important advice I have regarding letters of recommendation is to:
Make sure you ask way AHEAD of time.
Ask people who you KNOW will put in a good word.
I made the mistake of asking a professor simply because she is a prominent figure and well-known. HUGE mistake. During our meeting, she made it clear that one: she felt I didn’t perform to the best of my abilities in her course (I had a B+ in the class), two: looking at my transcript, she didn’t think I was cut out for med school and felt I should pursue a masters or PhD instead, and three: She wasn’t willing to write a strong letter of recommendation for med school, but for other programs, she would. It was the ultimate shut down. I literally cried after leaving her office and sent her an email essentially saying no thanks. She replied back apologizing because she realized she may have portrayed her negative perceptions about med school based on a family member’s experience. After that meeting, I vowed I would prove her wrong. Moral of the story, ask people that know you well and will uplift you and support your dreams. A famous person does NOT automatically equate to a stellar recommendation.
By June 1st, I had all 6 recommendation letters and all materials turned in for my committee letter. In other words, smooth sailing with this. And again, this is why I stress the importance of getting things done EARLY because quite frankly:
“Omgosh!! I’m so glad I procrastinated and waited last minute!!” – said no one ever.
On that note, till next time. Ciao!