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How to Get a Quality Letter of Recommendation

June 29, 2022
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Getting a quality letter of recommendation is an essential step in landing the opportunity you want. We're going to break down everything you need to know about getting your dream letter of recommendation, how to get in touch with the right person and what information they need from you, and how to do all this without annoying the heck out of them.

Whether you are applying to medical school for the first time or seeking a new career in a healthcare-related field, the power of a letter of recommendation can be the key to success. Take your time, be prepared, and you will have a valuable tool for attaining the next step in your life.

Ask the Right People

Remember that you must ask for a letter of recommendation in person. It should not be done via email or phone, text or social media, or snail mail. The reason is that your recommender must have a deep and personal relationship with you to write that glowing review. The best way to accomplish this is by interacting with them directly using your voice.

There are exceptions, especially in today’s highly digital world, but if you can, get that in-person meeting first. Be prepared by having a short letter you’ve written to help guide your recommender about who you are, your contributions, and what the goal of your recommendation is, as well as an addressed, stamped envelope for them to mail it back to you.

Ask Early

The key to getting a high-quality letter of recommendation is to ask early and give your recommenders plenty of time. This will ensure that the writer gets to know you well, has time to ask questions about your experience and background, and has ample opportunity to research what makes you an excellent candidate for the school or program in question. It is best to shoot for at least 1 month before you want to mail out your application package.

Be Clear

When reaching out to a recommender, it's important to be clear about your intentions. Tell them exactly what you need the letter for and how you want them described. This way, they can tailor the content of their recommendation accordingly.

If you're applying for a scholarship or fellowship that requires letters of recommendation, make sure they know this in advance so they can check if they are eligible to write one on your behalf (it may vary depending on whether they're an applicant themselves). The last thing you want is them to spend hours writing something only to find out it's not even needed when it's too late.

Ensure you let your recommender know why you're asking for a letter. For example, if you're applying to graduate school, let them know that this is an important application for which a letter of recommendation will be required. If it's an internship or job opportunity and they are familiar with the company, share that information so they can provide a more relevant recommendation based on their knowledge of the organization.

Offer Guidance

You can give the person you ask a draft of a letter and ask them to fill in the blanks. If the recommender doesn’t have enough time, you can still get a quality letter by giving them more specific requirements before they write your reference letter.

For example:

  • Provide an outline of what you want to be included in your reference letter (1 paragraph about my academic background, 1 paragraph about my leadership skills).
  • When asking for references, include questions such as “what were their key contributions?” or “what did they do well?” Create a list of accomplishments you want to highlight in the recommendation letters.


Now that you know a little more about getting a quality letter of recommendation, it's time to get started. Think through your relationship with each potential recommender and how long it has been since they've seen you in action. Then you should reach out to them to schedule a time to talk or discuss an important topic. If they say yes, then congratulations! Just make sure to follow these tips so that you get the best possible letters for whatever application process you're going through.

At SJSM, we consistently work with international students and those seeking placements and careers in highly competitive fields. Letters of recommendation are shared between our students and faculty - a point of pride for our facility. We encourage all our students to give faculty plenty of time to respond as life gets busy, and we want you both to have a rewarding experience.

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