If you are applying to a health professional program, you will likely need letters of recommendation from people who know you well.
So what's in a letter? A lot.
An admissions committee can determine a great deal about an applicant by what other people say in a letter. Through letters of recommendation, they can determine if you are the kind of student who can handle the academic rigor of the program or the kind of student what would excel in a chosen health profession. Good letters of recommendation will add depth to your application.
Do not under-estimate the importance of the letter of recommendation (a.k.a. the "letter of evaluation"). Here are some do's and don't for this critical part of your application:
Identify relevant people to write your letters. This is your opportunity to shine. Obtain letters from people who can attest to your ability in the classroom, work ethic, level of engagement, and more. Ask only those who know you well, understand your motivations, and can speak to your abilities as a professional or as a student.
Your homework. Learn when the deadlines are for the letters to be received, whether they can be sent in through an application system (such as AMCAS when applying to medical school) or hard copy, etc. Make sure you read through ALL of the information provided regarding letters of recommendation.
Understand how letters can be sent/received and inform those who are writing your letters. Frequently, application systems will generate a link to your letter writers, so that they can submit their letters electronically. Be knowledgeable about this process. Inform your letter writers well in advance. When you sit down to do your application, it is a good practice to have the contact information for your letter writers on hand.
Send a thank you note. Even in our busy world, this is still an important element in maintaining a positive relationship. Make sure you take the time to thank the letter writer. Remember, they took a significant amount of time to do YOU a favor!
Get letters from family or friends. Admissions committees are looking for evidence of your capacity to perform well in an academic and professional setting. While family and friends can reflect on your character, they can't objectively reflect on your professional character. So stick to those letter writers who are faculty, supervisors, or other relevant professionals, unless otherwise directed in your application.
Assume that your letter writer knows your deadline. Remember, this is YOUR job to know the deadlines and manage them. Instead, inform your letter writer of the deadline...even giving them a deadline earlier than the actual deadline is a good practice, as it ideally gives you a little extra time.
Ask for a letter last minute. Would you like it if someone asked you to do a favor and then gave you a short window of time in which to do it? Think about your letter writers. They have busy lives too with many demands for their time. Respect that. Give them enough advance notice, so that they can give it the attention you would like them to. Also, remember that faculty sometimes are on leave during the school year, so if you are asking a faculty member now about a letter in the future, be sure to inform them of your time-frame.
Write your own letter of recommendation. This is a bad practice all around, even if your letter writer asks you to do it and approves it. Remember that the members of admissions committees are smart...if they don't already identify it through the writing style, they can contact the letter writer for verification.
Look here for more about letters of recommendation tips and tricks. Download the Health Careers Center's Guide for Students and Letter Writers here.