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How do med schools evaluate recommendation letters?

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by mrh125, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. mrh125

    mrh125 Banned Banned Account on Hold

    Aug 4, 2013
    I'm just wondering because with most of the professors and people I've asked for recommendation letters they've either asked me to write it for them so they could sign it or threw hissy fits if i asked to see what they wrote because they actually took it seriously (I was just curious and didn't realize that it was a bad idea and I wasn't sure how seriously to take this activity. The answer is very seriously). How are recommendation letters evaluated when anyone can write their own recommendation letter and have someone sign it and what not?

    It just seems like something that isn't necessarily that reliable if you don't find the right person who actually knows you and can present your character and who you are accurately (both negatively and positively).

    My undergrad school didn't even bother with recommendation letters when i applied which made sense.
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  3. Pacna

    Pacna Dyslexics, untie! 2+ Year Member

    Jun 2, 2013
    I've always been skeptical of the "strong" letter suggestion that people suggest you pursue. For more than just the reasons you list, I think LORs are largely just check boxes (an ADCOM member can correct me here). I think any positive LORs will do, and asking a prof if they can write you a positive one is sufficient to ensure they're not saying "@mrh125 is a big jerk and don't accept him." As you learned, it is NOT okay to ask to see the letter. Interfolio is a service that makes sure the writee never sees what the writer says about them, and I suggest using that service. If they offer to show you, definitely take that, and if they offer to let you write it, DEFINITELY take that. :)
    Bisonman80 likes this.
  4. wiloghby

    wiloghby Perpetually interviewing 5+ Year Member

    Jun 16, 2012
    The lab where I work often has undergrad volunteers over the summer, and while I started out as one I ended up getting a nice stipend and then being hired on for the fall as well. For most of the undergrads who are around for a summer, the PI lets them write their own recommendations and has one of the researchers sign it who worked more closely with the undergrad.

    I asked him for a recommendation, and I had spent most of my time working with him and the other biostatistician PhD in the lab. He could have asked me to write my own recommendation, but he didn't. He knew me well enough to know I would (1) be uncomfortable with it and (2) not even know what to write. So he wrote the letter for me and uploaded it to AMCAS Letter Service.

    He later sent me a copy to read, and I was blown away. It was nearly 4 pages long, and one of my interviewers this cycle said it was "the best letter of recommendation I have ever read."

    The moral of the story is two-fold:
    (1) Ask someone with whom you have actually worked closely to write a letter, and:
    (2) Get them to write the letter. Don't write your own letter because if the professor actually knows you well, they can probably do a better job; most people will be more modest writing about themselves than writing about someone else.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
    BlueLabel and Boolean like this.
  5. Boolean


    Oct 14, 2013
    Medical school is no laughing matter. Medical school graduates literally have the lives of others in their hands. It's no understatement, it's fact. As such, only the most highly qualified candidates should gain admission. Sure, a student may perform exceedingly well with testing and have a splendid GPA and bounds of research and volunteering. But what if there is something about that student that simply strikes fear within their LOR writer in regards to the individual becoming a doctor? Do they express violent tendencies? Do they collapse under pressure? A letter of reference is a window into the behind-the-scenes of your life. While you may just want to present the showreel, being a doctor is much more than simply putting on your stethoscope and white coat, and LOR's can reflect what happens when the curtains close (and through extrapolation, express how you may perform as a doctor)
  6. Goro

    Goro Faculty 7+ Year Member

    Jun 10, 2010
    Somewhere west of St. Louis
    There are several types of LOR. One is the glowing "I'd like this student as my own doctor". That's about as good as you can get.

    Then there those that are step below that, which tell about how diligent and intelligent the candidate is.

    About once a year, I'll see bad LOR. No writer has ever come out and said "this is a bad candidate", but they do list character flaws that scare us, like constantly late; worked poorly in the lab group; was constantly distracted etc.

    Committee LORs can be near lethal is they don't give the highest possible recommendation. Typically the scale is 1-5, with 5 being best (or "recommend as outstanding". A 3 or lower will generally get someone wait-listed.

    We fully understand that there are lazy faculty who ask the students to write the LORs. Heck, I've had a Faculty colleague want to do that for me when I was up for promotion. I chose not to use her as a reference.

    To that end, if all of your LORs are glowing, we note that, and it's a plus.

    If you have one bad LOR, that will probably sink you.

    Anything in between, will not help or hurt. I've seen LORs from Nobel laureates, but they didn't help a lackluster candidate.

    Boolean likes this.
  7. Jennyfishy

    Jennyfishy 2+ Year Member

    Mar 24, 2013
    One of my interviewers commented that my LoRS were all very strong/unique and gave him a very positive impression of me before the interview even started.

    My PI asked me to write my own letter just to see what I thought about myself/what I thought she would say. She didn't use any of it and wrote a better letter :laugh:

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