How To Ask For A Reference Character Letter and Why

What kinds of letters of rec. are there? 

There are two basic types of rec. letters: 1) “field specific/expert” and 2) “character/non-expert”. The “field specific” letter writer is an “industry expert” within the applicant’s field – a restaurant manager can give an industry perspective on whether an applicant should be able to succeed in the restaurant business. A science professor provides specific feedback on a future scientist’s likelihood of success in the field.

A “character” letter is usually written by someone who is outside or on the fringe of the applicant’s industry. This person comments on other traits the applicant possesses that should lead to success. A “character” letter is still an expert’s testimony; in this case, the expert comes from outside the applicant’s intended field. Character letters often come from volunteer or work supervisors, internships, outside professors. 

Character letters should not come from someone who is not qualified to make an informed, expert recommendation. School counselors and pastors may know you well, but are not usually able to comment convincingly on your likelihood to survive the rigors of medical school.