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Monday, September 15, 2008

Are Letters of Recommendation really THAT important?

I hear this question a lot. And it still puzzles me.

I have heard prospective students say that some schools only look at letters of recommendation (let's call them LORs for short) if the applicant is "borderline". Huh? What? Borderline?

Let me put it clearly: LORs are critical in the UCSF PharmD application review process.

LORs are an extension of your application -- not an addition! They are used to evaluate your file, along with your essay answers and academic background/preparation. LORs can often "make or break" an application.

Letter writers are asked to assess many of the characteristics we look for in applicants themselves: written and oral communication skills; leadership; intellectual ability; critical thinking skills; your ability to get along with peers; adaptability; and motivation. Having at least three individuals comment on these areas helps us paint a better picture of you as an applicant. You bet we take LORs into consideration.

Lets consider a few scenarios:
  1. Jonathon Q. Applicant: Submits a very strong application. He didn't think the letters mattered much so he didn't care who wrote them. Three letters were submitted on his behalf but they weren't very insightful and the writers didn't really know him well. As a result, the letters were "very average."
  2. Maureen Q. Applicant: Submits an above average application that demonstrates strong potential to be a leader in the field of pharmacy. Four letters were submitted on her behalf. These letters were all consistent and detailed in the information they provided: the applicant has the skills necessary to be an outstanding pharmacy student. It was clear the writers knew the applicant extremely well and could provide detailed information about the applicant and her potential to succeed.
  3. Terrance Q. Applicant: Submits a strong application. Terrance knew that the LORs were a VERY IMPORTANT component to his application so he took this aspect of the application very seriously. He selected four individuals that knew him very well and could validate much of what he expressed himself in the application. It was important for Terrance to provide a diverse perspective to the Admissions Committee. He selected letter writers that could speak to many different areas (work, academics, personality, passion for the profession, etc.) He knew that he was limited in the amount of space he could write on the application himself -- so he considered the LORs as a way for others to speak about him, in hopes it would make him a more competitive applicant.
If you were on an Admissions Committee, how would you rank the above applicants? 1-2-3? 2-3-1? 3-1-2? Or.................3-2-1!

Consider your application to be like a job interview. Instead of us calling your "references", we ask for letters. Of course you want these letters to be insightful, detailed, specific, thorough, honest and supportive. The references should know you well! After all, if you were applying for a job, you wouldn't provide references who barely know you. So why would you do that with your LORs?

PharmCAS provides applicants with a general outline of what letter writers receive. Utilize the resources on the PharmCAS website to help you decide who should write your letters:
UCSF requires at least three LORs but will accept a fourth letter, if submitted. So that's four people speaking on your behalf!

Are you taking LORs as serious as we are? We hope so!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have found your entries to be very helpful in planning a time line for the fall 2010 application cycle.

I am curious if it is considered "better" to have a LOR from an organic professor as opposed to an introductory chemistry professor? Is the level the professor taught the student at taken into consideration?

Thanks again. I look forward to more entries!

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