Your chances of building a competitive application for medical or dental school increase tremendously when you consider the Holistic Review process and then use it to your advantage when pulling together all of your elements: metrics (GPAs, academic rigor and trend, and MCATs or DATs), personal statement, your experiences and work activities (and how you use the descriptions of them to make you flourish on paper), and your letters of recommendation or evaluation, and should you get them, your interviews.
Here, we are going to talk about your letters of recommendation. You might think you have no control over them at all, and if that is the case, you would be happily wrong. In fact, there is a lot you can do to secure wonderful letters of recommendation … letters that will make you shine … letters that will turn your un-strengths into strengths … letters that will fill in any gaps and make the picture you are painting for your admissions committees burst with excellent supporting colors and details … letters that can make the difference between you getting in or getting sidelined!
So to get the letters you need, you first need to understand the formula for a perfect letter of recommendation. It needs to be PERSONAL, GLOWING, and BACKED BY CRED!
Being personal means that your recommender/reviewer knows you. They know your strengths and un-strengths. They know your interests and what motivates you. They are invested in you and your success. When you accomplish this, your reviewer will care, and s/he will able to demonstrate a meaningful, insightful personal connection with you. In doing so, the value of their letter is far greater than that of merely acquiring a letter from a prof for a one semester class that you got a good grade in, but didn’t build a relationship with. The difference (aka the level of successful support) will show. And you want all of the amazing, successful support you can get!
The only way to get a truly glowing recommendation is to glow. To show your mentor/reviewer the best you have to offer. When you commit to your relationship with this person, and you show them all the awesome that you are and have to offer to your future patients and school programs, they will be able to easily share that in their letter. So the more your reviewer can share details of your awesomeness and discuss and/or defend your un-strengths (by turning them into personal positives), the better your letter will be! I have an additional tip for you here … to maximize the value even more … share your personal statement with them (or if you don’t have it yet, a written synopsis of you, your accomplishments, values, lessons learned, and goals) … talk to them about what you would hope they would be willing to highlight for you … or even discuss/defend for you. Of course, it’s their letter and their final say, but you can always let them know what is important to you and why, and what you hope they could support on your behalf. Also having a copy of your current transcripts and resume can help a lot, too!
Backed by cred … it’s so easy to get sucked into your education and running around trying to get all of your volunteerisms in, and in doing so, miss the importance of what you are doing and why you are doing it. As you are growing and developing along your journey towards becoming a doctor or a dentist, it is important for you to invest thought into your future as you go and know that you’re going to need stellar letters of recommendation. GREAT ONES! That means building relationships with peeps who are well respected in their fields. And even though it sucks, those cred letters make a difference. PhD, MD, DO, DDS, etc … these handsome letters will go a lot further than an MA, MS, or … TA for my course (who you oftentimes have way more access to than the human with the fancy letters). It can be hard, especially in larger institutions with larger class sizes, but nonetheless, the responsibility falls on you to build relationships with peoples of respected authority. So seek out your mentors. Get involved with them. Let them get to know you. Volunteer in their lab. Go to their office hours ALL THE TIME! Be involved in class. Ask questions. Share your triumphs and challenges with them. Ask for advice/counsel/guidance. Listen to their story. … Something. And enough of that something for them to be able to get to know you. And keep in mind, you need at least 3 letters. That’s 3 valuable mentor/mentee relationships. And every relationship of positive substance takes time. So invest in them, so they will invest in you!
The bottom line take home message: Build positive relationships with mentors who are respected in their fields. Let them get to know you for real. Show them how awesome you are.
Know that you have far more control than you might think … and know that you can build a spectacular, shining, successful application for medical and/or dental school! Invest in you, so they will!!! :0)
As always, my very best wishes to you for your happiness and success!