Recommendations can make or break you. Having a strong set of recommendations to back up a stellar resume and killer grades is essential to landing the medical school of your dreams.

At American University of Antigua, we require two letters of recommendation. One of these should be from an academic professional— like a professor or advisor. The second should be a professional reference —like an employer or medical colleague —who you know will be able to give you a great recommendation.

While no one looks for bad recommendations, there are several mistakes medical school applicants make when seeking out recs that can be just as harmful as a bad recommendation.

Recommendations from Well-Known Acquaintances

One of the most common mistakes is choosing a recommendation from someone you don’’t know well, but who has a prestigious title so it will still “look good.” It’’s better to get a letter from someone who knows your personality and understands what motivates you to pursue a career in medicine. Choose a professor who taught a small seminar course, or a mentor who saw you work in a research or clinical volunteer setting.

Recommendations from Workmates

Another common mistake is selecting recommenders who can’’t relevantly answer the questions about your candidacy as a student. Dr. Tim Wu, who served on the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine admissions committee, says this: “The recommenders who can help you get a job are not the same recommenders who can help you get into medical school.” While you want to have a career in medicine eventually, —this isn’t a job application. Find someone who can really speak to your academic strength and commitment.

Subjective Recommendations

The last one walks a fine line. While you want a recommender who knows you well, you also don’’t want to choose someone who knows you so well they’’re not unable to be objective.  Perhaps a family friend is the Chief of Medicine at a local hospital. People like these can be great character references. However, in a professional letter, if you haven’’t worked with them in a professional context, there’s a significant gap in information for Admissions Committees.

Focus on creating a well-rounded set of recommendations. Use them strategically to show your assets and diversity across the board.

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