Obtaining Strong LOR

Most health professions schools will require at least three letters of recommendation. Many mandate that two of those letters be from science faculty. This can be tricky at UC Davis, where most science courses contain hundreds of students. Regardless, this is what you have to achieve, so if you are serious about going to professional school, you will need to find ways to work with faculty or PIs. The best letters say something about you as a person. Take a look at what the AAMC offers as advice to letter writers. Schools want to see more than "This student scored an A in my class." This means that you, as a current student, have to begin from day one building relationships with those around you. The more outgoing and persistent you are, the more likely you will find someone who will respond to you. This does not mean be inappropriate or obnoxious about your persuit for a letter, but rather find individuals to mentor you in this process who could potentially serve the role as letter writer down the road.

Here are some tips for asking for a LOR:

Before

When you have chosen individuals to ask for a letter, begin by drafting a very professional, highly edited email asking for a meeting. You should speak with your letter writers in person or on the phone when asking. Before your meeting, put a packet together containing the following:

  1. Typed directions for submitting letter. (Website, email, steps, early due date)
  2. A description of your plans with dates (Check here to learn when your application season opens)
  3. Application Essay/Personal Statement (Learn More)
  4. Resume
  5. Transcripts and Scores
  6. Suggestions for the writer! It is very useful, as a writer, to receive a reminder along the following lines: "Professor Keyes, your letter will be the one that best illustrates my analytical ability, my promptness in completing projects, and my reasons for wanting to pursue PA school next fall. Remember that you gave me an A– in Chemistry two years ago and it was your suggestion that led to my summer at X Research Lab."

We want you to possess the highest level of professionalism when interacting with letter writers. You will receive a stronger letter the better you present yourself during this process. 

During

When you show up to your appointment on time, be dressed slightly nicer than you would on an average day.

Shake their hand and thank them again for their time.

Tell them what you plan to do (ex. Apply to dental school this June).

Look at them and ask, "Would you be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation to support my application?" Pay attention to their response! You are asking for a positive letter, not just any letter. You do not need an average or weak letter. If that person behaves in any way to suggest that he/she cannot write a positive letter, let that person know that you will not be needing their help with this part of the process. If you have any doubt in your mind about that person's feelings about you, you should probably think about other options.

 If your meeting goes well, you may be asked to answer additional questions or provide additional documents.

After

Soon after the meeting, you should send a well-written email thanking them for their time and offer to write a letter. Include any additional information they requested about you. Be sure to mention the deadline and offer to answer any further questions.

If the deadline is a week away and you haven't heard anything back, you can send another well-written email thanking them again and reminding them how to submit the letter. If the deadline has passed and you haven't heard anything, send another email thanking them and asking if they will be able to submit by a given date. Offer that if they cannot, it is fine but if they could let you know, you would greatly appreciate it.

Deadlines

Schools will not read your application until the required LOR are in your application. Give your letter writers PLENTY of time to submit so that your application becomes complete within a competitve timeframe. The worse case is having an otherwise complete application but missing one letter. It is your responsibility to ask the letter writers far enough in advance so that you are not projecting your emergency onto them. Respect their time and committments. Do not expect letters to be written within a month after asking. Ask 2-3 months before a deadline.

Faculty Advice on Asking for LOR

Quick Tips

Look for mentors, not letter writers.

Be genuinely interested in those you seek as mentors.

Be humble and gracious.

Research the person you approach. Know their research, publications, and tenure at UCD.

Supplemental content

Letters of Recommendation

What do school look for in a letter of recommendation (LOR) and how do I get one?

Most health professional schools will require at least three letters of recommendation. Many mandate that two of those letters be from science faculty. This can be tricky at UC Davis, where most science courses contain hundreds of students. Regardless, this is what you have to achieve, so if you are serious about going to professional school, you will need to find ways to work with faculty or PIs. The best letters say something about you as a person. Schools want to see more than "This student scored an A in my class." This means that you, as a current student, have to begin from day one building relationships with those around you. The more outgoing and persistent you are, the more likely you will find someone who will respond to you. This does not mean be inappropriate or obnoxious about your pursuit for a letter, but rather find individuals to mentor you in this process who could potentially serve the role as letter writer down the road. For more tips about asking for a LOR, click here.

How many letters of recommendation do I need?
While most health professional schools will require at least three letters of recommendation, two of which are from science faculty, the number and type of LOR’s required depends on the school. Check each school you to which you plan to apply to be sure.

HPA typically recommends students strive for four letters:

  • 2 science faculty
  • 1 non science faculty
  • 1 non academic professions/health professional

For some programs, the TA is an acceptable letter writer. When appropriate, always ask if the faculty can co-sign the letter.

If you work with a PI and he/she is also a UCD faculty, that will sometimes count toward a science faculty if you acquired credit for the research.

Regardless of who the letter is from, it is important that the letter be on official letterhead and be signed.

What is a committee packet/letter?

Many colleges across the US offer what is called a committee letter or composite letter. Very few California universities offer a committee letter due to the size of their applicant pool.

UC Davis does not offer a committee letter. Applicants will need to gather individual letters for their applications. Students should focus on building strong relationships with faculty, mentors, PIs and supervisors in health-related internships to acquire letters that reveal character and experiences.

Despite what you may read or hear, committee letters are not required.

What do I do if I am close to graduation and do not have any LOR prospects?

If you are near the point of applying and have not built any relationships with potential recommenders, you should think about why that happened. Did you not build relationships because you were too shy? Were you not involved in an activity long enough? Try to consider what prevented that from happening. If it were due to a condition you can control, be sure to address that issue going forward. Regardless, you need letters. You can attempt to go back to individuals who you admired and have an honest conversation about your need for a letter and ask them to write you a letter despite not knowing you well. If you are considering completing a post-bac or masters degree, you can work hard to build relationships in that program to obtain your letters.