Letters of recommendation (LORs) can really help your application move from the good pile to the great pile. A typical letter will state that you took Professor X’s class and performed in such and such manner. This does not really do much to help you nor does it provide any depth about you or your relationship with the letter writer. A great LOR will give specific examples of your relationship with the writer, include statements like “I have worked with hundreds of students and this applicant is really special” and also indicate the writers confidence in you and your ability to succeed.

How do you obtain such letters? By forming relationships with people. Be an active student, really put your heart into your activities and maintain your relationships. Discuss your goals with your mentors and most importantly – give them sufficient time to write the letter.

Some students feel that a letter coming from a big name at their school is worth more than a letter from an adjunct professor. This is not necessarily true. For one thing, the big name at your school may not even be recognized by the admissions committee at your medical school. For another, even a letter from a Nobel prize winner needs to have a personal touch. If your big name writer is going to send in a form letter with no personalization or indication that he would even recognize you if he passed you on the street you are going to need several other letters attesting to your personal attributes to make up for it. Lesser names may have more time to get to know you and your goals.

Give all letter writers at least three weeks to get your letters in. Start forming relationships as soon as you can, do not wait for application season to roll around and have a CV or resume available for those who need a refresher on you and your accomplishments. Take opportunities to network, meet face to face with advisers and work on projects with professors. Small seminar or workshop classes are ideal for shyer students who have a tough time walking up to Professors outside of class. By doing this you will ensure you receive personalized letters that help your application.