Once CASPA opens, everyone rushes to eagerly enter all of their information for transcripts, experiences, and so on. However, something really important to do early is to ask for a letter of recommendation!
Hopefully by now you have decided who you want to be your letter writers. These individuals are going to have a huge influence in whether you get an interview to a program so they seriously matter. If possible, I would definitely recommend you getting a LoR from a Physician Assistant. So this means you should google a PA and just randomly ask them to write you a letter? WRONG! You want to actually know all of the people writing you the letters. CASPA, and most schools, recommend that the writer knows you for at least 6 months. Hopefully you have been shadowing or working with a PA and feel comfortable to ask them to write you a letter. In addition to a PA, some schools would like a LoR from your supervisor or someone who has worked closely with you as you completed your patient care hours and/or a professor or someone from the academia world. Even if the schools you’re planning on applying to don’t specify have a LoR from your supervisor, I think it is a great decision to get one from them.
So, CASPA gives you up to 5 options for LoR. You have to fill out at least 3. But those other two options are great to use and you SHOULD use them. Say one school wants a LoR specifically from someone in academia but the other schools you’re applying to would prefer not to have one. You can use one of your other two openings on CASPA to fill this requirement. In addition, most of the schools I applied to actually told me that they read all 5 of my letters. I don’t think it can hurt you in anyway.
Okay, so you’ve made the decision on who to ask and you want to know the best way to ask them. Quite simple, I would ask them in person. Be professional and simply state something along the lines of “I’m sure you know that my dream is to become a PA. Since you have influenced me in this way… (or have affected this dream or have helped me achieve), I was hoping you would consider writing me a letter of recommendation. The process is very simple and should not take to much time-you would fill out a questionnaire section that would rank me on a scale and then attach a letter of recommendation. I would truly appreciate you taking the time to do this”. Most people are going to say yes. Occasionally, you might be unable to ask a boss due to HR regulations, but most work environments allow letters to be written to further education. You might also run in to someone refusing if they feel like they don’t know you well enough to write a good letter for you (this happened to some of my friends with their boss’).
Once you have gotten an okay from the writer, go ahead and send them a follow up email. In it, I would explain what is going to happen (they’ll get an email with a click through link from CASPA to fill out), tell them when you would like it to be completed by, and attach your resume. If you have something specific you would like them to highlight (for instance from a PA you shadowed, asking them to elaborate on your personality when shadowing or your desire to be a PA) go ahead and explain that to them to. Make sure to mention you would be happy to help with any questions that come up.
Now is when I would send them the CASPA email. On CASPA, make sure to click that you waive your right to read the letter. I repeat, WAIVE YOUR RIGHT TO READ THE LETTER. No matter what, CASPA is not going to let you see the letter and it just raises a little red flag to schools that you may be concerned about what your writer is saying about you. You’ll fill out the person’s email, write a little personalized blurb (say something along the lines of thank you for taking the time to do this), and enter a due date. Enter a due date before when you actually want it submitted by. CASPA also gives you the option of sending reminder emails. Do it. Be on top of getting the completed letters. I sent a reminder once a week.
Some individuals may ask you to write the letter yourself. This is both helpful and difficult. Make sure to ask if they have any drafts that you can go off of. You’ll obviously send the draft back to them and let them complete any final changes. I also got offered to let read my letters. That was super nice as well; I did ask one of my letter writers to elaborate more on something after I read her recommendation. Obviously, if the recommender does not offer, do NOT ask to read the letter. This can be construed as rude.
One of the questions I get asked the most is about the time frame of having a recommender know you. CASPA and most schools recommend at least 6 months. I would try to abide by this if possible. If you’re on the fence, ask yourself this: Do I really think this letter of recommendation would look strong? If you only shadowed the person once for a couple of hours-they really don’t know you well enough to write one. If you work with the person every day and have for 5 months-chances are they know you well and could write a strong letter about you. Every situation is going to be different and needs to be carefully considered.
Who did I have write my letters of recommendation?
- Cardiology PA I had shadowed once a week for 7 months
- Nurse Manager of the medical/surgical unit I worked for
- Charge Nurse who I worked with every week
- Another Charge Nurse
- Floor RN who worked with me hands on every shift
Hopefully this was some helpful information! If you have something specific you would like me to write about, feel free to contact me and tell me what you would like to learn about! My goal is to make at least one person’s application process easier.
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