Are you ready for another Applying to Grad School series blog post? Continuing with the momentum from last week’s post, this week I’m going to share with you my tips and tricks for getting kickass references for your dietetic graduate program applications.
First and foremost, before you start worrying about who your references are going to be, please, please get your OUAC application in. Don’t put yourself in the situation where you’re worrying about the last steps to applying before even completing the initial steps!
Okay, so now you’ve submitted your OUAC application(s). Now what? From my experience, most schools request 2 letters of recommendation and depending on the school, there are guidelines for who these letters can come from. For example, the Master of Applied Nutrition program at the University of Guelph requests 2 academic letters of recommendation whereas the Master of Health Science program at Ryerson University requests two letters of recommendation that can be academic or from an employer or someone else who you’ve worked closely with.
When choosing academic references, these are the questions I asked myself:
- Is this someone I’ve worked with in the last two years?
- If I saw this prof walking around campus and said hi, would they know who I am?
- Did I actively participate in this prof’s class?
- Did I do well in this prof’s class?
Of course, actively participating in class and having a good relationship with a prof doesn’t mean you’ll always get a good mark in the class, and that’s okay. You just want to make sure that the prof can advocate for you when writing a letter of recommendation. The letter of recommendation is basically them backing you and telling the school why you deserve to be shortlisted for an interview.
In addition, academic references can also be faculty you’ve assisted with research projects. It should also be noted that your references do not need to be from a prof in the nutrition department. However, it’s more likely that a prof in the nutrition department is familiar with the process of applying to dietetic graduate programs and is more experienced in writing letters tailored for these types of applications.
When choosing references, I preferred choosing profs that I had in my last two years of study because they are more likely to know the type of student I am now, rather than a prof I had in first year. These profs are also more likely to remember who you are and mention specifics about teaching you in their letters.
If you are shy and/or are not the type of person who raises their hand to speak in class, don’t worry! You don’t have to be the person who always talks in class to get a great reference. What I recommend to these types of people (and honestly everyone) is to arrange a one-on-one meeting with the prof you’ve requested a reference from. This will give you the opportunity to tell the prof more about yourself, your personal life, your extra-curricular activities and hobbies, interests in the dietetic field, and also to learn more about them. I met with all of my references and I left these meetings feeling much more confident that these were the profs I wanted to advocate for me and ultimately, my future.
This can include employers, volunteer supervisors, club presidents, or coaches to name a few. These types of references are great because you usually have a deeper connection with them, and they know you as more than just a student.
My biggest tip when obtaining professional references is to let them know exactly what you want them to mention in the letters. As I mentioned earlier about obtaining references from profs outside of the nutrition department, these people are probably unfamiliar with the specific attributes a dietetic graduate program is looking for in a prospective student. Give your references a list of skills you want them to include and provide examples of how you demonstrated these skills in that job, volunteer work, club, sport, etc.
For me, I asked my boss from my job working as a pharmacy assistant for four years to be my reference. Luckily for me, my boss is also my best friend’s dad and we have a great relationship. We collaborated together and discussed what I wanted the letter to include.
For all references
My biggest tip for any reference is to give them ample time to craft these letters for you. As I mentioned in my previous blog posts, the supplementary application materials are due in January. You should be looking for potential references by November at the latest. If you think you’re busy, your prof/boss/coach/etc. is probably equally if not busier than you. Profs have classes to teach, assignments and exams to mark, families to take care of, and probably at least 10 other students who are requesting recommendations. Your boss has a dang business to run! Give your references the time to write you a kickass letter.
If the deadline is getting close and you still haven’t heard or received anything from your reference, take initiative and contact them. Things come up and technical difficulties can occur, you just want to make sure you’re both on the same page because at the end of the day, if the letter is not submitted on time, you are the one who loses out, not them.
And always remember to express your gratitude and thanks to your references. They aren’t getting paid to do this, they’re doing it because they believe in you and want you to succeed!
Phew, that was a long one! But I hope you found it helpful and are starting to think about who your references will be. Again, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to send me an Instagram DM or email.
Best of luck on your grad school applications! x