One of the most important things you’ll need to become a distinguished applicant is to get strong letters of recommendation. I talk about how to ask for a letter of rec here, this post focuses on who to ask.
Many students dread requesting a letter of recommendation because it means striking up a new professional “mentor-mentee” relationship that most students aren’t accustomed to. It’s not every school year that you have to ask someone in a position of authority, who you might not feel like you know too well to gush about how great of a person you are in an official letter.
So who should you ask for letters of recommendation? Get your letters from people who know you well, and like you. That’s the big, overarching general principle that you need to keep in mind as you begin narrowing down your list of people to ask: They need to like you — a lot!
Read Letter of Recommendation Requirements Carefully
Before you begin making a list of people to ask for letters of recommendation, read requirements for the schools you are applying to very carefully.
For example, most medical schools require three letters of recommendation from professors that gave you a letter grade. Of the three letters of rec, some medical schools ask for two letters from science professors and one for non science professors, other medical schools require two non-science and one science. Check out the MSAR for the letter of the law.
The same logic applies to dental school, law school, MBA school, and other graduate schools — read the requirements very carefully so you don’t waste any time requesting letters that aren’t needed for your application.
The Top List of People to Ask For Letters of Rec
- Professors who knew you, liked you, and gave you a good grade — Don’t know any professors well enough to feel comfortable requesting a personal letter? Take the time to get to know your favorite professors before it’s too late.
- Research advisors, employers, and important volunteering officials that knew you well and liked you — and you worked closely with them.
Other things to keep in mind:
What is the focus of the program you’re trying to enter? Get letters of recommendation from people whose occupational focus matches that of the program — for a research school, get a letter from a research advisor, for a clinical school get a letter from a clinician.
Do NOT Ask These People For Letters of Recommendation
- Grumpy professors: Even if you got an “A’ in Professor Grumpy’s class, you can’t trust that he will write a positive letter for you, so steer clear and get to know one of your warmer, more compassionate professors.
- Your grandma, your mom, your neighbor: Personal relationships unrelated to the position you want don’t result in persuasive letters of recommendation — keep it professional.
- People who don’t know you very well, or people who don’t like you.
It’s All About Relationships
The big thing I want you to take away from this — great letters of recommendation are written by people who know you well, and like you.
So first follow the guidelines for your program, and request letters of recommendation from the people who fit the guidelines, know you well, and like you.
I get that it might not feel natural for you to walk into a professors office and start gabbing away like you’re with your boyfriend/girlfriend, but it really isn’t all that challenging — you do need a letter of recommendation guide to help you steer the conversation toward your goal.