One piece of your application, which is critical to our review process, will actually be prepared and submitted not by you, but by a third party. You will have chosen that third party, so you do have some control, but you are trusting them to do the job, to do it well, and to do it on time.
Of course, I’m talking about your reference letters. And since this is about the time you should be considering whom to ask to be your referees, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the process today.
I wrote a post last year about these letters, and the details in that still hold true. So, I encourage you to have a look. I don’t want to regurgitate everything I wrote there, but I do want to underscore a couple of key points.
First, choose carefully. You want your three referees to cover a broad range of your abilities, both academic and non-academic. That being said, we will not tell you whom to ask, and we do not prescribe categories from which you must choose. Think about who knows you well, who has time to write the letters, and who will be perceived as objective enough to write a fair assessment (i.e., not your uncle or friend). Ask not only “Will you be willing to write me a reference?” but “Will you be willing to write me a GOOD reference?”
Second, be aware of the deadlines, and make sure your referees are aware of the deadlines. Reference letters are due at OMSAS on Oct.1 at 4:30PM EDT, just like all the other pieces of the application. However, because these letters are somewhat outside of your control, we do allow for some leniency. As indicated in the OMSAS instruction booklet, UofT is willing to extend the deadline for receipt of reference letters to Dec. 1. Any letters that are not received at OMSAS as of close of business on Dec 1 will not be considered. This means that the associated application is considered incomplete and will not be assessed. Don’t let this happen to you! If your referee cannot commit to having their letter in by that final date, then thank them and move on to find a replacement.
And finally, please be sure that your referees know that we require an actual narrative letter in addition to the checkmark grid produced from the OMSAS application. The letter is far more important to our assessment than is the grid, as it tells us so much more.