Admittedly, asking for recommendation letters can be a daunting task and quite frankly, a bit awkward. After the personal statement, recommendation letters are arguably one of the most important facets of your application. Throughout your application process, all you do is advertise yourself in good light. This is finally a chance for somebody else to promote you. Choose carefully.
But who should you ask? Ideally, we recommend 4 recommendation letters, at least one being a pre-requisite professor. Typically, it should be 3 professors, 1 advisor/research/extracurricular leader for traditional students. For non-traditional, we recommend 2 pre-requisite professors, 1 advisor/ research/ extracurricular activity leader and 1 employer. The reason being that your most recent professors will be your pre-req professors if you’ve chosen the non-traditional route and likely your professors from undergraduate won’t remember you clearly. These ratios are obviously a very fluid concept and I assume you know to change the ratios based on your relationships with them. In terms of recommendation letters, it’s all about quality over quantity. Make sure the people you choose to write the recommendation letters are able to write with finesse. It’s funny because most of our recommendation letters come from science professors and while they are accomplished in their field, they do not excel at writing or expressing through words. The result is a poorly written recommendation letter which does not fully show your true self. I get it, you don’t really know your professor’s writing style. But sure, you’ve read their emails, their comments on lab reports, their speaking etiquette. There should be a slight indication as to who is a good writer.
After you’ve chosen your writers, the next step it so approach and ask. This is best accomplished with a face-face interaction as this will accomplish a few things for you; firstly, demonstrates maturity and professionalism from your side, it will give you an answer on the spot, relieving your anxiety. And lastly, it gives you option if you need to search for a replacement writer given the writer declined your request. This is ideal, but it’s understandable if you attend a large university where professors aren’t easily accessible, a non traditional student and you do not have the time to speak with the professor face-face. In this case, email is the next best choice.
Typically, the manner in which you ask for the recommendation is purely dependent on your relationship. In undergrad, because I went to a small university, I had a strong relationship with my professors and mentors, where I was able to ask over a beer or a racquetball game. Some of them required a professionally written request. This is how it should go;
Dear Professor ____,
My name is_____, I’m a student in your _____. I enjoyed your class during the ____ semester and it was an integral part to my undergraduate education as I use the class to further my knowledge in the field. I am applying to Physician Assistant programs throughout the country and I wound humbly like to request for a recommendation letter. I am applying to #____ programs and the deadline for the submission of recommendation letters is on _______. If you are able to complete the recommendation letter by the deadline, please let me know, in which case, I can email you the hyperlink, in order to complete the process.
Thank you for taking the time to read this email.
Short, sweet, simple, professional.
After they have written the recommendation letter for you and you see the “Completed” stamp on CASPA, send them a thank you email and a small gift (corsage). Professors write many personalized recommendation letters during this time and it genuinely takes up a lot of their time. Be appreciative.
That’s it, you’re one more step closer to hitting submit! Enjoy. Drink a beer or Caprisun, whatever fancies your pallet.
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