When I was researching my Letter of Recommendation book, I asked professors for their best stories around getting a letter of recommendation. Here’s one that will shock you:
“One student sent me his resume and list of grad schools just before Thanksgiving. In his note he told me that he was supplying me with this information so that I could write his letter over the weekend (as if I had nothing better to do!) since his letters were due in a week. When I told him that I would need more time, his curt reply was “Do your best. Just remember that the letters are due on December 1st.”
– Dr. Jeanne Perry UCLA
Yikes! That’s exactly how you piss off your recommender. Do you think this professor wrote a glowing, wonderful, warm letter of recommendation? Me neither.
Create a Recommender Pack
Instead, give your recommender what he or she needs and wants to really empower him or her to write you an amazing letter of recommendation. Here’s a summary of your Letter of Recommendation pack that you want to prepare for each recommender:
- Updated resume or CV
- Copy of your personal statement draft (a rough draft is fine)
- If the recommender is a TA, instructor, or professor, provide a sample of the work you did in the class
Get Agreement Early
I recommend that you pre-arrange with your recommender that you will be asking for a letter. Go into office hours early in the semester and share with the recommender that you are a pre-med and that you would like to update the recommender on your progress during the semester, then at the end of the semester check-in with him or her to see if he or she feels comfortable about writing you a letter. (More on who to ask for a letter of recommendation.)
Set Expectations and Invite Feedback
To get the best possible letter, ask your potential recommender what he would like you to do in addition to the regular coursework in order to give him something to make the letter of recommendation really great. Are there some outside readings he would like you to do and report back to him about? Is there some additional material he’d like you to work through? Any additional labs or research that he feels might be helpful?
For a lot of students, getting through college means doing the least amount of work possible. But as a premed, you want to go the extra mile, demonstrate your level of commitment and get the recognition and reward that goes along with it.
Your next step is to put this plan into motion by scheduling a meeting with your potential recommender. If you want a complete script on what to say to your professors, email templates for making appointments, and sample letter of recommendations, read my book Great Letters of Recommendation.
What else have you found useful in raising the quality of letters of recommendation? Let me know in the comments below.