Requesting Recommendation Letters

Who to Ask?

1. Academic: Develop good relationships with your professors. Ask questions in class, visit their office hours, keep in touch after the class has finished. We recommend obtaining letters from two faculty who have taught you in science courses, normally in two different subjects, and one who has taught you in a non-science subject (keep in mind: this is merely a recommendation and may not work for every applicant). 

Ideally select writers who can evaluate you in the context of experience with other Pomona or 5C students. Letters should come from Pomona or other 5C faculty; however, a letter from a lab coordinator can be used in cases where those interactions have been further developed. Most importantly, choose academic recommenders who know your work best.

Don’t start by thinking “Who gave me my best grades?”  Instead focus on the classes in which you gained the most, and in which the professor knows what it took to make that progress. A letter that highlights your hard work and persistence in a subject can carry a lot of weight. 

If applying for MD-PhD, DO-PhD, DVM-PhD or any other research-intensive program, letters from research supervisors are important, and should be submitted along with other academic letters.  

2. Non-Academic: A letter from your supervisor in a volunteer activity or internship is a valuable addition to your application. Begin conversations with these recommenders during or soon after the experience ends and then keep up with them until you are ready to officially request the letter upon applying. Don’t wait until you’re ready to apply; turnover may leave you without anyone who knew you during your time with the organization.

If the person who writes is not someone who observes your work day-to-day, e.g. a volunteer coordinator, take the initiative to keep that person informed so they can write a substantive letter.  Make an appointment part way through your activity to request a letter and to talk about: what’s interesting, what’s challenging, and what you’re learning about yourself. Make another appointment near the end of the activity to discuss how the experience has helped you think about your future. Letters that include some detail about what you’ve gained, and how, are much more valuable than those simply reporting the number of hours you completed.

How to Ask?

Do not ask when passing in the hallway or by sending a casual email. This catches people off-guard and in some cases they will accept without considering whether they’re a good choice, which is something you need to discuss with them. Request the letter in advance, and never less than three weeks before it’s due.

Provide All Necessary Information: Make an appointment with each recommender to discuss your interest in the profession, and how your ideas have developed since you studied or worked with them. Tell potential recommenders why you have selected them and who else will write for you. Provide information (ex: coursework, research projects, etc.) to remind them of the work you did under their supervision, as well as your resume and personal statement.

Leave Room For "No": Ask each potential recommender if they can write the kind of letter you need. If a person seems reluctant after you have provided all relevant information, accept this and move on. If someone is too busy to write a thoughtful letter, or does not know you well enough their letter will not be as helpful.