ERAS — Electronic Residency Application Service
“ERAS is a service which transmits residency applications, letters of recommendation, MSPE’s, transcripts, and other supporting credentials from medical schools to residency program directors using the Internet.”
Writing a Letter of Recommendation
Rob Patterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Our job as letter-writers is to advocate for the student!
- Be honest. There must be synergy between your letter and other letters. If the student is submitting a personal essay or is interviewed, the committee will be looking for synergy between those and your letter as well.
- If you’ve never written a letter for a specific purpose, contact those who have!
- Do not mention ethnicity, age, marital status, etc. unless something is relevant to explaining a deficiency in the student’s record. Talk to the student first.
What goes in
- Begin with a brief paragraph introducing the student and the position for which he/she is applying. This should include something akin to a thesis.
- “It is with great pleasure that I recommend John Smith for admission as a graduate student in the Department of Basket Weaving at Jellystone University. John is a highly disciplined student whose creativity and drive have earned him a great deal of respect among both faculty and staff at Washington University.”
- Describe who you are and how you know the student.
- “During my fifteen years at Washington University as X, I have worked with and personally supervised more than # students.”
- Clarify terms specific to Wash U.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Give meaningful examples, anecdotes, etc. to illustrate the student’s strengths as put forth in your “thesis.” This is your “evidence.” They can’t select a student based on abstract descriptors. You must include specific examples of when the candidate demonstrated the skills/traits you say they have.
- Put the student in a larger context. What are other students you’ve interacted with doing now? How does this student compare to those?
- Consider the requirements of the position. The description of the position/award/grant is basically your essay prompt. This is not possible when a student asks for a letter for his/her dossier, but if you are the one sending multiple letters, you can modify the first one to cater to specific requirements.
- Talk about the student’s personality only as it relates to the requirements of the position.
- Again, use specific illustrative examples.
- Remember that what you leave out or what you left unsaid also says something.
- Close by reiterating the student’s strengths, perhaps how he/she will contribute to the target University’s community.
- Say you are happy to be contacted if the reader has any questions.
- Include your full title and position under your signature.
When you are asked to write a letter
- Do you know the student well enough to write a convincing and supportive letter?
- If not, be honest with the student. Use this as a teaching opportunity and have a conversation with them about how to choose recommenders.
- Get comfortable saying no! Sometimes saying no is in the student’s best interests.
- Meet with the student; request relevant materials to help you learn more about the student’s goals, the position/grant/award and what the committee is looking for.
- For “old” students, ask for an update on what he/she has been doing in the interim.
Some technical stuff
- Remember that the letter will be read very quickly by someone who has hundreds to read.
- Set aside time to write the letter AND come back to it later to revise.
- Should be at least 1 page and not more than 2 pages single spaced.
- Use a font size that is easier to read and an extra space between paragraphs.
- Remember when submitting electronically, your readers might see the document name.
- If submitting over email, the substance of your email is as important as the attachment.
- Use department letter head. If submitting electronically, get a document with your department’s letterhead on it.
- Your credibility is everything!
- Don’t say anything you can’t back up.
- Don’t make claims about the student’s abilities unless you are certain. If they don’t deliver, your future letters will be discredited.
- Send the right letter to the right place.
- Don’t trust mail merge!
- Confidential letters carry more weight. If the student has a choice, explain why waving the right to see the letter can help his/her chances.
- A personal handwritten note attached to the letter can be very effective if the letter is going somewhere with which you have a personal connection (former colleagues, former instructors, friends, etc.).