The Importance of Prioritizing Character Over Credentials
For years, when writing letters of recommendation, I had a specific process that I followed.
First and foremost, I only agree to write letters for individuals whom I know well and have worked with for a significant amount of time. This ensures that I have a thorough understanding of their character and can provide an accurate recommendation.
Second, I asked that all applicants provide me with a copy of their personal statement, a list of all their activities and accomplishments, academic achievements, etc. Whatever they think makes them special - both in their eyes and in the eyes of the admissions committee.
Finally, I would take all this data and create a recommendation letter that I felt highlighted an applicant's very best traits.
This must be awesome, right?
Guess what? I was totally wrong.
Character Trumps Credentials Every Time!
When it comes to writing letters of recommendation for students aiming to secure a place in a Physician Assistant/Associate (PA) school, it's critical to keep in mind that character trumps credentials every time.
Let's explore this crucial element further.
Unraveling the Tapestry of a Student's Character
As I mentioned earlier, for years, when a student approached me for a letter of recommendation, I would always ask for a list of their academic and extracurricular achievements.
I thought it was helpful to recount these accolades in detail, but it's important to remember that college admissions representatives are already privy to this information through transcripts and activity sheets. Reiterating it is not just redundant but also a missed opportunity.
Instead, you should use your letter to delve deeper into the tapestry of the student's character, personality, and individuality. It's these stories of integrity, resilience, and compassion that truly illustrate a student's readiness for PA school.
A Powerful Recommendation: The Story of Character
I came across this wonderful account of a recommendation letter written for a graduate school applicant we'll call Sam.
At the time, Sam was immersed in his role as a researcher. One day, he spotted a $100 bill lying unnoticed on the floor outside his preceptor's office. Instead of keeping the found money for himself, he picked it up and immediately went to his supervisor's office. He was determined to make sure that the lost money was returned to its rightful owner.
This may seem like a simple, mundane story, but it speaks volumes about Sam's character.
His determination to return the money showed his integrity and respect for others' property. These are not traits you would glean from his transcript or activity sheet, but they are critical attributes that a PA school would appreciate.
A Letter of Recommendation: Echoing the Student's Integrity
When writing Sam's recommendation letter, this incident became the letter writer's focal point. It demonstrated his inherent integrity, a quality not easily conveyed through grades or club memberships. This story painted a vivid picture of Sam as a person, far beyond his academic prowess.
The goal of a recommendation letter is to provide the admissions representative with an inside look into the student's character and to speak in a voice that complements the data already available.
This kind of letter helps construct a more complete, three-dimensional picture of the student, making them more than just a sum of their grades and extracurricular activities.
Character: The Underlying Theme in Admission
From my experience and from listening to PA school admissions officers, I've realized that the most impactful letters of recommendation often revolve around character. It's stories of honesty, integrity, resilience, and compassion that truly resonate and create lasting impressions.
So, when asked to write a recommendation letter for a PA school applicant, remember to go beyond what's already known. Explore the deeper aspects of their character and personality, and relay stories that truly exemplify their virtues.
It's these real-life narratives that make a student stand out, transforming them from an applicant to a prospective PA in the eyes of the admissions committee.
For Letter Writers:
- Prioritize Personal Stories: When writing the recommendation letter, prioritize personal stories that show the applicant's character over achievements and accolades. Such anecdotes give the admissions committee insight into aspects of the applicant's personality and character that can't be gleaned from transcripts or resumes.
- Meet with the Applicant: Have a one-on-one meeting with the applicant to better understand their experiences and personal journey. It's not about what they've achieved academically but about how they've grown as a person and what values they hold dear.
- Echo the Applicant’s Integrity: While noting an applicant's academic or extracurricular prowess is helpful, aim to highlight aspects of their character such as honesty, integrity, and compassion. These traits are as vital for a prospective PA as the credentials.
For PA School Applicants:
- Be Genuine: When discussing your achievements and experiences, focus on those that genuinely resonate with your personal journey toward becoming a PA. Remember, your character is as significant as your credentials. Be ready to share stories that reflect your integrity, resilience, and compassion.
- Prepare a Personal Statement: Even if it's not 100% ready, prepare a personal statement that communicates your motivations and experiences that led you to pursue a career as a PA. This can give the letter writer more insight into your character.
- Communicate with Your Recommender: Have an open conversation with your recommender about what makes you a unique candidate for PA school. Go beyond just academic and extracurricular achievements, and discuss incidents or experiences that have shaped your character and values. Choose from experiences gleaned during your time interacting with and working with your letter writer. These real-life narratives can help your recommender write a more effective letter.
Looking for some inspiration: Here are my pa school letters of recommendation along with some letter of recommendation templates.