Letters of recommendation are critical to the success of your overall application. Select whom you ask to write letters carefully and feel free to ask if they feel comfortable writing you a strong letter of recommendation. If they are hesitant, consider asking someone else. Faculty do not like to spend their time writing poor letters of recommendation, so they will not say yes unless they feel comfortable doing so. To ensure you will obtain strong letters of recommendation it is important that you get to know faculty so they can get to know you. If possible, take more than one course with a particular faculty member. Also, don't assume that you have to choose recommenders for classes in which you did very well. A strong letter of recommendation from a faculty member who gave you a less-than-desired grade can help the admissions panel better understand your strengths and mitigate the lower grade.
When requesting letters of recommendation, you should provide your recommender with as much information as possible including a copy of your resume, a copy of your personal statement (if you have it ready), and any other information that might be helpful. Some applicants have resubmitted a paper they wrote to remind the faculty member of the quality of their work. If you apply after you graduate, stay in touch with faculty. Make sure you know if they will be on campus or on leave at the time you need your letter.
It is essential that you know what the schools to which you are applying expect or require regarding letters of recommendation and follow their instructions. Medical, dental, podiatric and some optometry schools require or prefer a letter of evaluation from the pre-health advising committee at the applicant's undergraduate institution. This provides schools with a more consistent voice from which they can compare applicants. The letter of evaluation is referred to as a committee letter and can come in a number of varieties. At Wooster, the Pre-Health Advising Committee prepares a composite committee letter using individual letters of recommendation that the applicant requested be sent to the committee. For disciplines where the committee letter is optional, be aware that institutions do vary in their policy on whether a committee letter from the Pre-Health Advising Committee at Wooster counts as more than one author, so it is important for you to check with each program that you are applying to.
If you will not need a committee letter and will be submitting individual letters of recommendation, most health professions make use of centralized application services that allow for easy, electronic submission of letters by your recommenders. Typically, you are asked as part of the application to enter in the names of your recommenders and if the letter will be sent electronically or via paper. Applicants provide email addresses for recommenders who will be sending electronically and those recommenders will receive an email with instructions of how to submit the letter electroniclaly. If it is via paper, applicants have to print out a letter request form that they then give to the recommender to include when sending the letter of recommendation. For paper submissions, it is a good idea to provide your letter writers with stamped envelopes addressed to the schools to which you are applying.
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