If you know a student who is applying to a health professional program, they will likely need letters of recommendation from people they know 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 those students who can handle the academic rigor of the program. Or the kind of student who would excel in a chosen health profession. That said, good letters of recommendation will add depth to a student's application.
Students should 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 their application:
Identify relevant people to write their letters. This is their opportunity to shine. They should obtain letters from people who can attest to their ability in the classroom, work ethic, level of engagement, and more. Instruct them to ask only those who know them well, understand their motivations, and can speak to their abilities as a professional or as a student.
Do their homework. They need to 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. They are responsible for reading ALL of the information provided regarding letters of recommendation.
Understand how letters can be sent/received and inform those who are writing the letters. Frequently, application systems will generate a link to the letter writers, so that letters can be submitted electronically. Students need to be knowledgeable about this process and inform their letter writers well in advance. When they sit down to complete their application, they should have the contact information for their 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 students understand they take the time to thank the letter writer.
Students should not:
Get letters from family or friends. Admissions committees are looking for evidence of a student's capacity to perform well in an academic and professional setting. While family and friends can reflect on their character, they can't objectively reflect on professional character. Letter writers should be faculty, supervisors, or other relevant professionals, unless otherwise directed in the application instructions.
Assume that their letter writers know the deadline. The student's job is to know the deadlines, communicate them, and manage them. They need to inform their letter writers of the deadline well in advance...even giving them a deadline earlier than the actual deadline is a good practice, as it ideally gives the student a little extra time.
Ask for a letter last minute. Would they like it if someone asked for a favor with a short time frame? They need to remember that letter writers 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.