Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are almost always required when applying to health care majors and professional programs. Like all other components of a good application package, getting letters of recommendation requires purposeful planning. Below are some suggestions for making this important component of your application a success.
- Learn the specific requirements for letters of recommendation for each program to which you will be applying. While almost every program wants them, the number and type of letter(s) requested vary considerably from program to program. Some programs want four letters, others only take two. One application might require two academic-based letters, and one from a professional in your chosen area of study; another might two academic, one from a professional in your chosen field, and one from an employer. You get the idea. So, find out early both the quantity and types of letters required by your prospective program(s).
- For the academic letters of recommendation, find out who can write a letter. Some schools will accept letters from graduate teaching assistants (TAs), others will only take letters from faculty members. If a program will accept a letter from either TAs or faculty, then you have a decision to make. While I would generally recommend that applicants get letters from faculty whenever possible, a good letter from a teaching assistant who knows you well, and can write meaningfully about you, is better than one from a faculty member who does not know you well, and their evaluation of your academic potential is restricted to "...the student attended my lectures, did well on exams, and earned a 3.2 for the class." Remember, find a writer who can really write about you as a student and a person; someone who can write about the qualities you possess that are going to be valued in a health care program.
- Identify potential letter writers early, and ask them if they will be willing to write a letter, even if the application process is still two years away. Try to schedule an appointment with a prospective writer, and treat that meeting like a job interview, which may mean wearing appropriate clothes. Bring in a cover letter discussing why you have chosen a particular health-care field; also bring along an updated resume. Try to give the writer as much information about you as possible. Remember, start identifying potential letter writers early; most professors are unwilling to write “last minute” letters, or if they do write one, it is likely to be not the stellar letter you need.
- Consider opening a Letters of Evaluation Online (LEO) account with The Career Center. While many professional schools have letter of recommendation forms specific to their program, most will accept letters from LEO. It allows letter writers to create one generic letter that can then be sent to several different schools.