Need advice on which LORs to include for composite letter

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May 26, 2012
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tl;dr version at the bottom of the post; already posted this in the LOR thread but that thread hasn't had any activity for days so I'm assuming it's dead

I'm nearing the deadline for my alma matter's composite letter application and they want a maximum of 4 LORs (not due until much later, I just have to confirm who will be writing). Until recently I was planning on just using all my PIs over the years plus a lab supervisor since that bumps me up to 4 solid letters that I know will be good, and since I'm applying MD/PhD I figured all they really care about is the PI letters anyway. However, I've been looking more into it and it seems like MD/PhD programs also want letters from professors that taught you with the usual 2 science/1 non-science quota.

I have a few professors in mind, but the problem is that I graduated 2 years ago and never had a professor for more than one class and never really went to office hours, so I don't know how good these letters would be. I also live 100+ miles away from the university now so I have to hope that they can remember me from name alone and maybe a few details about who I was in their classes. The upside is that the two science professors I'm considering both taught small classes (one was a grad class) and don't teach often (in fact I think that for one of them I was 1 out of 12 people they've ever taught), and I did do pretty well in their classes.

There's also another possibility which is the professor I had for a biochem class I took last semester at a local no-name low tier college (I was only enrolled in that one class since I know it's a pre-req at a lot of schools). I pretty much massacred that class (102 final grade, my poster project for the class got voted as the best one by other faculty and was put on display in the department office as an example for future classes) but I'm still not sure if that's a letter worth getting since I'm a graduate from a top 20 university and I'm afraid that getting a letter from a professor at a college like that may look desperate in that context.

So basically what I'm wondering is is it worth it to put two of those letters in my composite letter in place of two research letters. Normally I wouldn't even be thinking about this and would just do it, but the CL and all the LORs attached to it are going to follow me around forever, so I'd like to make sure that this thing is as good as it can be since if there's anything bad in there I'm never going to be able to get rid of it.

This is all ignoring the issue of the non-science letter which I know is going to be generic no matter what. Assuming cognitive psychology counts as "non-science" I could ask my cog psych professor to write a letter; problem is, that class was a 100+ student lecture and was taught two years ago (although at least in that class I did go to office hours a few times just to talk more about interesting stuff in class so there's that at least). The only other option is my Japanese professor from three years ago who actually already wrote me an LOR for something completely unrelated previously; the downside with that though is that I got a B in that class and was pretty awkward that whole year on top of it (combination of severe sleep deprivation and having to talk in another language that I wasn't great at in front of 15 other people). My CL committee only mentions wanting the science letters so I think I'm just going to leave off the non-science letter and include it separately for schools that explicitly state that they want it.


Applying MD/PhD, need LORs for composite letter (max of 4), have four good writers for research LORs but thinking of substituting two for science teachers instead for balance but not sure if that's a good idea since I took classes two years ago and, while I did well, not sure how well they'll remember me. Also want to know if I absolutely must have a non-science letter in there (CL committee doesn't make any mention of them) as well since any non-sci letters I get are most likely going to be pretty dull.
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