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No one to write Letters of Recommendation for me...

Discussion in 'Nontraditional Students' started by Richard Baddock, May 15, 2008.

  1. Richard Baddock

    Richard Baddock 7+ Year Member

    Dec 15, 2007
    I have scanned the board and read some other posts, but I feel the hardest thing for me will be finding people to write letters of recommendation. I'm non-traditional in the fact that I am graduated and probably a little older than some others (26). The earliest I will apply is for 2010 matriculation.

    My dilemma is that I never got to know any of my professors while in college. The fact was I never needed much help in my course work and the idea of trying to be buddy-buddy with someone, that most of the time, I didn't like kind of made me feel sick. I definitely missed some opportunities to get to know some of the professors that I actually found interesting and I regret that. Now that I am done with school, I have no one. So despite my 3.94 GPA, I leave behind no lasting memory of myself with any professor. This of course makes it very difficult to find a writer of recommendation.

    I plan on doing some research with a professor for the next year or two, so that is a potential 1 letter. I figure I need 3-5 (and my school doesn't have a pre-med committee). Does anyone have any ideas of what to do at this point? Specifically I'd be interested to hear what people did who were removed from college for an extended period of time before they applied to med schools. Bonus points to replies that don't involve butt kissing and me having to go to ego-maniac former-professors that I don't know and say "Oh wow... I find your research sooooo interesting and your class was totally the best ever!"

    Thanks a bunch in advance.
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  3. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor? Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    Best case scenario for LORs is to get a 3-page love story from a well-known prof who teaches a class you aced. In your case, think back to the profs who you formed any relationship (the guys you thought were interesting), or classes you did well in. Profs will remember you. You may not have had beers with them, but they will remember your questions in class and your interest in their class will make you stand out to them.

    Getting one from a recent employer (the researcher you're going to work with) is a good idea.

    When you ask them for a letter, be sure to send a current CV to help them guide their thoughts.
  4. gman33

    gman33 Moderator Emeritus 10+ Year Member

    Aug 18, 2007
    Try to make it easier for them to remember you.
    Maybe you had a class where you wrote an excellent paper or something similar. Write the prof an email explaining your situation and attach a copy of the paper (if you have it).
    When asking for LORs, make it clear that you only want the letter if they feel they can write you a STRONG letter. A poor letter is worse than no letter at all.

    Did you have an advisor or program coordinator at your school? If so, go to them and ask them for some suggestions.

    If you find you are really striking out, you could take a few upper level classes for the purpose of getting LORs. You may not want to do it, but it is an option.
  5. thewendster

    thewendster Senior Member 5+ Year Member

    Dec 15, 2006
    Hey, I'm 26 too and that's not old! The advice from the others is wise, and I think you should try to get at least one letter via this route. Your research professor would be #2. For your third and fourth I would recommend the following:
    1) You said you're doing research for a year or two right? Well that gives you time to volunteer a little in a clinical setting. Many hospital volunteer programs like the one I participated in in Oakland have a policy that the they will write a LOR for you if after you hit X number of service hours. (In Oakland it was 100 hours and the LOR was from an ER doctor) This type of letter would look great to ad coms and additionally, you don't need to feel sleazy about kissing up to someone you don't like for a letter. It's on the table being offered to you as an incentive to volunteer.
    2) Take a fun class at a community college and get a letter from that professor. I took a Logic & Critical Thinking class over winter break and had some very interesting conversations with the prof. I didn't end up asking him for a letter because I already have enough, but he told me that if I needed another, he'd be happy to write one up. This type of letter is good because it will be from a recent professor & will demonstrate your well-roundedness.
  6. Luxian

    Luxian 5+ Year Member

    Dec 13, 2006
    I was applying nine years out of undergrad, so I'm sure no one remembered me from my 200+ student science classes!

    I used one letter from a prof from grad school and two from employers. Some schools will absolutely require two letters to come from professors (such as Emory). However, a lot of schools aren't so strict, or merely require you to explain in a paragraph why you are NOT providing two letters from professors. You'll still need to have three recommendations, but I would say you absolutely DO want to have a recommendation from someone who knows your work from the last couple of years. Check with the schools before you apply so you don't waste money, but don't let this stop you from applying to medical school.

    Also, you should look to an evaluation service such as Interfolio or VirtualEval. You have your recommenders send their LOR to Interfolio and then Interfolio verifies them and sends them out to all the places you apply. This makes it much less arduous on the recommender since they won't have to write multiple letters.

    This is totally doable.
  7. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor? Moderator Emeritus 7+ Year Member

    I always forget this, but it is such a good idea, and it holds true all the way through your career. :thumbup:

    Interfolio (I have been told,) is an easy way to organize letters, and is worth looking into.
  8. Kateb4

    Kateb4 7+ Year Member

    Nov 28, 2006

    Have you been a full time student, or do you have some work experience? I got a LOR from a previous employer in leiu of one of my prof letters. So, I ended up with 1 letter from a prof, 1 letter from my committee, 1 from the employer (an oral surgeon), and 2 from doctors (1MD, 1DO)
  9. crazydiamond

    crazydiamond Non-trad with 2 kids 2+ Year Member

    May 29, 2007
    Albuquerque, NM
    I'm in the same position, except that I'm 28 and have been employed in a completely unrelated field for the last 7 years.

    I've been volunteering since last Sept and plan to ask one of the doctors I work with for a LOR. I'm also taking a couple upper division science classes this fall for the express purpose of getting LORs (well, and to get back into the swing of things). Not an easy route, for sure, but I gotta do what I gotta do.
  10. MeowMix

    MeowMix Explaining "Post-Call" 10+ Year Member

    Jan 6, 2003
    I had 3 letters from professional colleagues/supervisors, and 2 letters from docs who I had shadowed or volunteered with for significant amounts of time (50+ hours). 1 letter written by my head TA in prereq course, signed by TA and the prof teaching the course. Used an assortment of these.
  11. nontrdgsbuiucmd

    nontrdgsbuiucmd 2+ Year Member

    Mar 28, 2008
    my own little world
    I spoke with each school to learn their policy on LORs from non-traditional applicants, all of them were fine with "alternate" letters given the number of years since I'd graduated, but for two schools I did need to petition a dean (UIC and one of the Wisconsin schools) so that an employer letter would be accepted instead of a third "academic" letter. (I had two academic letters from recent post-bacc work) I learned that a few schools are very particular about the letter source, and will not consider an applicant "complete" until the right LORs are received. For example, for one school, I"ll need to obtain a letter stating that I'd successfully completed the program and graduated in good standing (as I'd finished the program 9 years ago & haven't kept in touch with my professor there)

    Overall, there shouldn't be a problem with this. PS I got to know my professors, some I liked and others I just got through classes with, partially because they know so much about a field that's new to thinking is that the student/instructor interaction is a great opportunity to bug an expert with lots of questions that I could never ask of a random Chemistry PhD off the street. As a side benefit, my two current medical school research projects were set up through connections with my post-bac instructors and were not generally known to others in my classes.
  12. primadonna22274

    primadonna22274 Senior Member 10+ Year Member

    I graduated with my B.S. Biology in '98 and went right on to PA school. A few years ago when I started thinking med school semi-seriously, I sent a feeler email to my old biology advisor. He was friendly and encouraging. Just got back in touch with him a few weeks ago and glad I did since he's moving on to another college cross-country this summer, and he said he'd be happy to write me a strong letter and in fact gave me a bunch of pointers of where to apply, etc. I have the advantage of submitting a couple of letters from supervising physicians who know me well and will probably get a letter from my academic advisor in PA school but if I need the science letter, I can get that too.
    Don't write yourself off too quickly. I was in all ways an unimpressive undergraduate student but my prof remembers me as a "good student". Go figure. Doesn't hurt to ask and see what happens.
    Good luck!
  13. McSnappy

    McSnappy 5+ Year Member

    Aug 18, 2007
    Ask me later
    You find out who you want a letter from, you walk into their clinic and you ask them if you can spend some time shadowing them. If the secretary gives you some kingdom, get a card and start calling them, find their email address and send them a note. Whatever! It is critical to get stellar LORs. As a non-trad, it is as or more important.
    This may delay your entrance into med school by a year, but, the letter will be gold. Make who you get the letter from count. See my other posts on this subject.

    Know one thing. These docs are bred to teach. Med students teach med students in lower levels, interns teach students, residents teach lower level residents, interns and students, attendings teach all of them. For a minimum of 7 years, you are either pimped or are pimping. It is taken as, "that's how its done". So, that means when someone comes in and says, "thank you sir, may I have another":D or in other words, "I want to learn, will you teach me", they will be willing to let you in. Don't be over cheesy!!! or to serious either. Be yourself, but have some enthusiasm, ask questions, (but not too many) and ask what you should be or should have been looking for when they interview a patient. Get to know them and ask career questions. It is a commitment. Yeah it sucks sometimes, but suck it up!

    Many/most docs have absolutely no problem allowing someone to hang out and learn. They have had people watch them do their thing for years and most likely, you may have some students or residents with you. If so, ask the residents if you can follow them too. They will have some great advice and be able to tell you who to talk to, not to, etc. And just maybe, they will influence the person you want to get a letter from... if you ask them!
  14. Bingo87

    Bingo87 2+ Year Member

    May 26, 2008
    I have a slightly related problem. I got to know two of my professors pretty well, and thankfully enough they both agreed to write a recommendation letter for me. However, I am having a hard time with my third letter. I tried asking the hospital that I volunteer in, but apparently I don't have enough hours to qualify for a recommendation letter. I also thought about asking my research supervisor, but the research topic is completely non-medical related and it's not even in a university setting (it was in a ceramics company). So my question is: Do you guys think a recommendation letter for such research supervisor would be appropriate for medical school?

    Any comments would appreciated.
  15. p30doc

    p30doc Ever true and unwavering 10+ Year Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    whoops sorry, duplicate msg
  16. p30doc

    p30doc Ever true and unwavering 10+ Year Member

    Aug 22, 2007
    Did you have to write every school individually before sending in your secondaries and get approval? Or did you just include a paragraph with your secondary/letters explaining why they are what they are?

    I ask because I did a post-bacc program and took only science courses, so I have 3 letters from science professors and 0 from non-science, it seems everywhere asks for 1 non-science. =/
  17. Luxian

    Luxian 5+ Year Member

    Dec 13, 2006
    Remember your non-science doesn't have to be a prof. It can be an employer, a research advisor, a volunteer coordinator. Basically you want to have your application highlight all your skills, not JUST your academic ones (though those are important). Each school is different. Some you have to call to get a waiver and some will give you a short text box on the application to explain. It's different for every secondary.
  18. bioteach

    bioteach MSIV 7+ Year Member

    Apr 9, 2007
    I am non-trad so I sent in 1 from my undergrad research advisor, 1 from my grad school advisor, 1 from an employer (also a prof since I teach at a university) and 1 from a doc I shadowed for one day. The only school that had any problems with my non-traditional set of letters was Western COMP (a DO school). I didn't contact any in advance, just sent that set of letters to all.
  19. blueperson

    blueperson Member 5+ Year Member

    Nov 29, 2004
    I have a slightly different problem. What is a reasonable assortment of LORs from someone who has been in the working world for some time (BS 96, MPH 99)? It seems recent job experience might be worth more than how I did in a course in 1992.
  20. DrJosephKim

    DrJosephKim Advisor Physician SDN Advisor 7+ Year Member

    Mar 29, 2008
    Blueperson, I would agree that letters from existing supervisors will probably speak more. In fact, if you feel comfortable, you can provide your supervisors with your academic profile (grades, test scores, etc.) and let them comment on your strengths, skills, etc. based on your academic background.

    The real-world application of your scientific background may speak the most.

    I would also encourage you to think about reaching out to a couple of old professors who might remember you (or who might at least be willing to try). Reconnect with them, let them know if your plans, and give them a sense of what you've been doing. This way, they can speak about your potential based on your past performance and also based on the way you're applying yourself now.
  21. Live4Life

    Live4Life Junior Member 10+ Year Member

    Mar 9, 2006
    From what I read on various schools' websites, it seems that they want two LORS from science professors. Do most non-trads have two letter from science professors? I think that I am only able to obtain one before I apply, so I hope that this isn't a negative strike against me. I will have two other letters from professors at the undergrad instiution where I attended who I knew quite well.
  22. blueperson

    blueperson Member 5+ Year Member

    Nov 29, 2004
    What exactly is the number we are to provide? Does the app ask for 3? 5? 7? What if we have more? How are they broken up amongst colleagues, people who studied under us, supervisors, grad school, etc.? If we are non-trads (in 30s) we have much more expertise and leadership outside of school that people would speak to. So, I guess, in short, how many and who has to write them?
  23. lfdrc

    lfdrc 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2008
    Blue person,
    The number and type of letters varies by school. It seems that three is standard, two from science professors and one non-science (sometimes specified as a professor). There are waivers for non-trads, but I don't know how flexible schools will be.

    That said, I have questions that seem like they fit in this forum--
    1) The non-science letter: I graduated in 2000 and the only prof I'm still in touch with (visits my family once a year for deer hunting) is now more "friend" than "former professor" and has retired. Would it be OK ethically (and by the rules of friendship) to ask for a letter from him?
    2) The science letters: I got back into the swing of school by taking A&P. Both semesters' professors were encouraging and warm and truly pushed me over the edge to being pre-med. One is a retired biology professor and the other is the chair of the Med-Tech department. Would they work as the science letters?
    3) Work letters: I worked in a hospital as a unit clerk while doing prerequisites. Should I get a letter from a supervisor there (ie Charge Nurse or Manager), or should I reach back to a career type job reference (non-profit management) from a couple of years ago?
    thank you so much for your help!
  24. Krisss17

    Krisss17 2+ Year Member

    Bumping as these are questions I have as well!
  25. student1799

    student1799 "Señora” to you, hombre 5+ Year Member

    Jul 8, 2008
    I'm honestly not sure about the retired profs. On one hand, they did actually teach you while they were working, so that should be relevant, but on the other hand, they're not profs NOW, so I'm not sure what the med schools would think of that. I think you'd better ask your premed adviser, or the schools themselves. If they do turn out to be acceptable letter writers, than I would definitely ask them.

    BTW, since you did go back to school to take prereqs, do you have any more recent profs who'd write for you? I think it would be most helpful to have RECENT academic letters if you can get them.

    Work reference: definitely use the hospital job--more relevant to med school than your former occupation.
  26. lfdrc

    lfdrc 2+ Year Member

    Apr 11, 2008
    Thanks for your reply. I do have more recent professors, but they're either current (which I think would be odd), or the pre-med advisor, who I don't really get along with, the aforementioned A&P folks (the one who's retired teaches one class a year for fun), and the microbiology prof of a class of 75. I haven't taken any non-science post-bacc.
    I do have some friends who are current professors, although I've never had them for class. I'm guessing that would be a bit of a stretch!
    Thanks for the advice about the hospital job. I don't know why I was hesitating--at least that's one I can pin down before the (knock on wood!) secondaries come in.
  27. crazydiamond

    crazydiamond Non-trad with 2 kids 2+ Year Member

    May 29, 2007
    Albuquerque, NM
    I don't see anything wrong with retired professors. Just because they're no longer teaching doesn't mean they still can't have a valid opinion of you from when they were.

    Granted, I haven't applied to med school yet, but I have applied to various jobs and an MBA program and nobody has ever cared one lick about whether my references were still at the same place of employment or even if they were in the same industry. As long as the profs write about how they felt about you then and not now, I don't see the problem.
  28. unsung

    unsung 10+ Year Member

    Mar 12, 2007
    hey, I feel for you. I have had the same concerns before. I'm 26 as well. What I did was go back and retook o-chem & physics at my state univ, partly to review for MCAT and partly for the sake of LORs. It worked out well, as I got all As, and I made sure the profs knew me... I wasn't one of those pesky students who had lots of Qs in class, but I did make sure to go up after class to ask some Qs or go to their office hours from time to time. More importantly, I did really well in the course, so they knew me. So, I'm going to have 3 letters from science profs to pick from. They're not the best letters in the world, I'm sure, because I didn't do research with them, etc. but I think they'll be good enough as they have good impressions of me. I also gave them my personal statement, transcript, and resume (at their request), so it should be fine.

    Aside from those letters, I have one from my work supervisor from when I was a Personal Care Attendant (PCA), which I know is pretty good and talks about my personal character, etc. Another letter is from my volunteer supervisor from where I volunteer as a crisis counselor. These letters I think I can count on to me pretty solid because my supervisors have really seen me at work and I don't think they can say bad stuff about me... esp the volunteer supervisor, because I've been volunteering for 1+ year & I'm sure they appreciate their volunteers. So, that's another avenue to explore-- your volunteer supervisors will typically have good things to say about you, especially if you are volunteering at a place where the supervisor has lots of contact with your work and really sees you in action. I feel like they'll have a lot more stuff to say about me than my science profs, honestly.

    So, I know it sucks to kiss *** in order to get those LORs... they are the components of my application that give me the most anxiety, to be honest... just because they are out of my control. Everything else (MCAT, essays, etc.) is under my control, so I feel better about those components. But, you do what you have to do. And it pays to plan ahead. If you're doing research w/ the prof for a yr, that bodes real well for you. Also, I would try and get a letter from your volunteering because that is bound to be good. Then all you need is another letter from a prof, so go & take a class if you have to. It'll be worth it. Good luck.
  29. student1799

    student1799 "Señora” to you, hombre 5+ Year Member

    Jul 8, 2008
    I wouldn't assume the letters won't be good just because you didn't do research with these profs. If a prof is a decent person and they can tell you took the class seriously and worked hard, they'll write you a nice letter for that alone--sometimes even if you didn't get an A.

    I speak from personal experience here. I had a phenomenal orgo II prof, and I really busted my butt in the class and learned a tremendous amount, but I only got B-ish grades on his exams. (He packed them full of so much difficult material that I could never finish on time, because I can either do orgo right OR fast, but not both at the same time.) This prof knew me pretty well, because I always sat in the front row in lecture, often asked short questions before or after class, and emailed him from time to time. (I also showed up a couple of times at office hours, but no more than that.)

    Near the end of the semester, I was really upset at my low test grades, and I went to see him about it. Not only was he really nice to me, he VOLUNTEERED to write me a "strong" recommendation for med school. This guy was unusually nice, no question about that, but I think even more mainstream-type profs will reward you for hard work and showing interest in their class.

    IMO, the moral of this story is: NONTRADS, GET TO KNOW YOUR PROFESSORS. If they know who we are and why we're there, profs are often really supportive and nice. From their point of view, nontrads are a nice relief from all the garden-variety college-age premeds they see.
  30. sophie45


    Jan 13, 2010
    I will be applying to med schools next summer and am concerned about getting the required LORs. The school I would most like to attend states "Three letters of recommendation from college or university teaching faculty from any department are required. Applicants who have been out of college for five years or more may submit two letters from employers and one academic teaching faculty letter."

    I graduated in May 2008 so will have only been out of school for three years. Like the OP, I had large class sizes and didn't make any professor contacts (my bad). I know I can get good letters from my undergrad research advisor and current PI but am unsure if they count as teaching faculty if I didn't take a class from them.

    I am considering taking a class to get a LOR, either retaking a pre-req I got a B in or an upper-level science. However, I am studying (re-learning) MCAT material now so I would rather not enroll in a class.

    Thanks in advance!
  31. Mbeas

    Mbeas Hi I'm Kate 7+ Year Member

    Jan 18, 2010
    nice bump sophie
  32. confuzzle


    Jul 17, 2010
    If you will be taking a class while studying for the MCAT, make sure it is a very very easy Science class you'll take. MCAT has to be your priority. I learnt this the hard way ...

    If you are applying next cycle, try to take the class after your MCAT so you don't get distracted. You will obviously need to shine in this class to get a good LOR.
  33. Lefty Doodle

    Lefty Doodle 7+ Year Member

    Jan 24, 2010
    I don't want to put this subject too much off-topic, but does anyone know how many schools would tend to allow 2 employer letters and just 1 faculty letter for people who have been out 5+ years? I am going to be taking a lab from the prof I had for bio II in hopes of getting a letter, but am lost about where to find other letters. I'm in freshman classes!
  34. jaymzrex


    Sep 2, 2011
    I am in exactly the same boat. Got a 3.9 GPA, 38S MCAT but never got to know professors in undergrad... in fact never really attended classes. Been out of school a few years now...
    After reading this forum, I think I'm going to ask my comedy teacher to write a recommendation. I like the idea of taking another class at community college (try anthropology - that might look good for med schools?) and DEFINITELY getting some volunteering or doctor shadowing if you have some time. I might try to do something similar.
    The problem is I was getting super desperate and started asking my parents friends for recs. Does anyone know how to withdraw a request for a recommendation?
  35. mafunk


    Feb 16, 2011
    The school's I'm applying to want at least on professor, which is also tough for me given my years out of school. And the fact that my post-bac pre-reqs are online and via cc (and yes, I checked with my chosen schools and they are fine with online and cc classes).

    Anyway... Even though I've done well, I think any prof letter I get is going to be somewhat weak since I really don't know the profs at all given the nature of my classes.

    So, I thought what I would do is send in four (rather than three) LORS. I will ask for three physician letters
    - one from a dr. who teaches clinicals for one of the schools I'm applying and whose medical school classes I am sitting in on (hopefully he'll say yes)
    - one from a dr. I'm shadowing that is an alumni of one of the schools I'm applying to
    - one from a dr. I volunteer under
    - one from a prof.

    BUT... which prof do I ask?
    The Community College prof who I've taken two in person physics class from? Or the online prof at a private osteopathic school who only knows me as a student via the internet?

    Both options kind of suck. Which would you choose
  36. mafunk


    Feb 16, 2011
    :laugh: That is funny! Glad you've found better options for recommendations. A letter from a comedy teacher would be awesome, I think.

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