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How to Maximize Your Chances of Getting a Great Post-Bacc Letter of Recommendation

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Letters of recommendation are critical to the success of your post-bacc application. Finding reference writers with relevant professional experience who can evaluate how likely you are to succeed as a post-bacc student, medical student, and doctor can elevate your profile with admissions committees. However, letters of recommendation can also be the source of a lot of anxiety. Unlike your post-bacc admissions essay, you can’t control what is said in a letter of recommendation.

If you’ve been building good relationships with your professors, health care volunteer supervisors, and others over time, you’re already halfway to a great letter of recommendation. To get you the rest of the way, here are some other steps you can take to improve your chances of obtaining strong letters for your application.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Make a timeline of all your application deadlines so you know when you’ll need to submit your letters. Don’t wait until two weeks before the application deadline to ask for references!

The professionals you are asking to write letters are busy people. Requesting a letter of reference months ahead of the deadline shows respect for the referee and ensures they have time to write a thorough evaluation of your potential as a future doctor.

Requesting with plenty of time in advance also shows your references that you’re taking the post-bacc application process seriously—which implies you’ll take the rest of your journey toward a medical career seriously, too.

Choose References Who Know You Well

Asking for a reference from the professor who taught your 250-person chemistry lecture class probably isn’t a good idea, even if you got an A. You need to choose referees who:

  • Know you well – Have advised you, taught you in a small-group setting, or supervised research or volunteering you performed.
  • Are connected to health care or health science – Faculty who taught you in a science or health science class are preferred, because they’ll be able to offer an informed evaluation of how you’ll handle post-bacc and medical school coursework.
  • Can say good things about you – This should go without saying, but don’t choose a reference who is unfamiliar with your work or who seems unenthused about writing a letter for you!

When narrowing down your list of references, ask yourself: can they speak to your resilience, academic potential or achievements, caring and compassionate nature? Ten years from now, if they were in the hospital and you turned up to treat them, would they be relieved?

Finding references who know you well enough to answer these questions is key to obtaining a great letter of recommendation.

Ask Relevant Professionals

You may have a reference who’s known you for years and can speak to your compassionate nature and intellectual ability. However, if that person isn’t also related to health care or academia, they may not be an appropriate reference.

Post-bacc admissions committees want letters of reference from professionals who understand how challenging the path to medical careers can be at every stage, and who can offer an informed opinion of how likely you are to succeed based on that understanding.

Typically, this means you should seek letters of recommendation from:

  • Professors who teach science, health science, or health professions (e.g. nursing)
  • Professors who have supervised research you have completed
  • Health care employers, volunteer supervisors, or physicians you have shadowed
  • An academic advisor with experience advising pre-med students

Avoid requesting letters from character references, non-health care employers, or professors who teach other subjects unless you’re absolutely out of options.

An exception can be made for athletic coaches or music teachers, but only if you pursued sports or music at a very high level of performance. In that case, they may be able to offer a convincing reference that focuses on your dedication and resilience under pressure. Letters like these shouldn’t make up the bulk of your references, however.

Make Your Request in Person

Ask for your letter of recommendation in person. However, don’t corner your reference at the end of class. Go visit them during office hours. Take a few minutes to explain why you want to pursue your post-bacc, and why you think they would be able to write a strong recommendation for you.

Making your pitch in person gives your reference a sense of your passion for the path you’ve chosen. It also gives you a chance to gauge their reaction to your request—someone who hesitates probably won’t be able to write you a really great letter. Go with a reference who’s almost as enthusiastic about your path as you are!

Set Your References Up to Succeed

Once you’ve rounded up appropriate references who are raring to write you a great letter of recommendation, make sure you give them a helping hand. Put together a packet of supporting documentation they will need to complete their letter. This can include:

  • Submission deadlines for every post-bacc to which you are applying
  • Addresses to which they need to send copies of their letters (some schools may require letters to be uploaded via a website instead of mailing or e-mailing—include the relevant link if so)
  • A copy of your personal statement, so they can refer to your personal goals and ambitions for pursuing the post-bacc
  • Your current resume, which can give them additional context about your dedication to pursuing a medical career in the future

To make things even easier for your references, you can also include stamped, pre-addressed envelopes for any post-bacc programs that want letters of recommendation submitted via postal mail.

About two weeks before your deadline, don’t hesitate to send your references a message reminding them that submissions are due soon, and thanking them again for their time.

Follow Up and Show Appreciation

Your references will want to know how your applications went, so make sure you update them once your decisions come in. Whether you were successful or not, thank each person who took the time to write a letter for you for helping you out.

Nobody makes it into a post-bacc or medical school without the support of others. Building and nurturing those professional relationships starts from the very beginning of your educational career—and can lead to great letters of recommendation!

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