Letters of Recommendation: Complete Guide

August 17

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Both DO and MD programs require letters of recommendation from medical schools as a crucial component of the admission process. They are intended to give admissions committees a third-party, unbiased assessment of your suitability for a career in medicine.

Instructors and mentors who favor your candidacy can write letters of recommendation for you. They know you best and can explain how you can best help with your desired medical plans. They can also accurately convey what your student or mentor is like.

This article is a complete guide to help you with your letters of recommendation. From choosing the right people to ask to the different factors to consider when asking for letters of recommendation, you will find them all here.

Table of Contents

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation are crucial to the success of a medical school application. Instead of your claims or the opinion of a prejudiced friend or relative, they unbiasedly evaluate you. 

Some claim that letters of recommendation are even more critical than personal statements because the latter is inherently discriminating. Personal information, after all, tries to portray you in the best possible light.

On the other hand, recognized professionals like mentors, professors, and doctors write letters of recommendation. As a result, they are likely to be given preference by an admissions committee over you. 

It is crucial if the person sending your letter has worked closely with you and has good things to say about you.

What are the Types of Recommendation Letters? 

In medical school, there are three different sorts of recommendation letters. First, you must conduct preliminary research and visit the medical school website you are applying to, depending on what you may need. 

The types of letters of recommendation you must obtain to meet the requirements are listed below for your reference.

Committee Letter

The premed committee or adviser composes a committee letter expressing how your school thinks about you. 

A committee letter might or might not include other letters you provided to support your application. Composite letters are another name for committee letters.

Letter Packet

A letter packet is a compilation of letters your school, usually the career center, puts together and distributes. 

A letter packet can contain a cover sheet from your pre-health committee or advisor. However, unlike a committee letter, a letter packet does not include an assessment letter from your pre-health committee or advisor. 

Individual Letters 

Individual letters are both authored by and on behalf of a single author. 

If you have already included it in a committee letter or a letter packet, do not add it as a standalone item for an individual letter.

Who Writes the Letter of Recommendation? 

Choosing the persons to write these recommendation letters takes time and effort. Medical schools demand many letters, and the application procedure may differ significantly depending on your undergraduate institution. 

As a result, start discussing your goals with your recommenders as soon as possible.

Below is a list of people you can ask to write your letters of recommendation.

Science Professors

You will need at least one premed science recommendation, preferably from biology or anatomy, to vouch for your expertise in the sciences. 

Teaching assistants are encouraged to offer their opinions to the professor drafting your letter, but they should refrain from writing it themselves. 

Start going to your instructors during office hours to establish a rapport if you still need to get one.

Non-Science Professors 

Speak with a professor (past or present) in the humanities or social sciences. 

Non-science professors also include your instructors in any non-science-related courses.


Doctors you have shadowed and worked with are ideal letters of recommendation writers. 

Find someone familiar with you personally and, ideally, with whom you have collaborated or shadowed during your pre-medical extracurricular activities.

Premed Advising Committee 

This is essentially a cover letter prepared by your school's premed office, pre-professional advising committee, or a similar group.

Additionally advised in some circumstances are letters of recommendation from the people listed below:

  • Director of Research (if you have research experience)
  • An official from the volunteer program (if you have medical-related volunteer experience)
  • Director of the graduate program (if you are a graduate student or hold a master's degree)

If you are reapplying to medical school, it is also a good idea to submit a fresh letter of recommendation that considers your accomplishments, credentials, and activities from the previous year.

Furthermore, some letters will not be taken seriously by admissions committees for medical schools. 

Letters from family members, friends, and other people who have never collaborated with you in an academic or professional capacity will not be treated with the same regard as letters from the kinds of people we described above.

5 Factors to Consider When Asking for a Recommendation Letter

It would help if you gave the person you requested to write a letter of recommendation the required instructions and details about the program(s) you are applying for. This is so that they can better tailor their letter of support to match what the institution is looking for.

Here are the different guidelines and factors you must consider when requesting a recommendation letter.

Time Frame

First and foremost, it is essential to consider when you intend to get recommendation letters. 

Give your writers enough time to draft a quality letter, if possible. From when a note is requested until uploaded into our system, we know it takes roughly 12 days.

We advise providing your medical school recommendations with at least two weeks' notice. With shorter information, your contact might not have the time to produce an in-depth letter that accurately represents your qualifications. 

Or, if they have too many obligations, you might not be able to acquire a letter from this person on such short notice.

On the other hand, if you provide too much warning, there is a chance the contract will not remember to send the letter. 

You should follow up with your contact a few weeks before the deadline if you decide to request a referral month in advance to remind them of the due date.

Number of Letters You Need

Depending on the program you are applying to, you may need more letters than you think. 

Typically, medical schools want two to five letters of recommendation submitted on the applicant's behalf.

However, they might accept any additional letters you provide with your primary application. For example, some medical schools only accept three letters, others accept six or seven, and some even allow up to thirteen.

Components of Medical School Letter of Recommendation

You should clearly state in your letter that the admissions committees for medical schools are searching for applicants. This is especially useful for recommenders who have never prepared a letter of recommendation for medical school.

Additionally, sharing this information will strengthen their case for you, enhancing the strength of your medical school application. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges provides some recommendations for writing the ideal recommendation letter for medical school:
  • The relationship between the recommender and applicant should be described, along with how long you have known the applicant.
  • When discussing their character, focus on how their actions will contribute to their anticipated success in medicine.
  • Include any challenges the applicant has had in pursuing their education and professional development.
  • Describe how the candidate possesses the skills that are essential for medical school.

You can guarantee the letter writer covers the essential topics medical school admissions officers want to see by giving them a framework to build their recommendation. 

To help them understand what makes a solid recommendation letter for medical school, it is a good idea to provide them with some sample letters.

Length of the Letter

Letter writers may be unsure of exactly how much or how little they should recommend in their letter. These letters typically run about two pages long. 

The letter should be at least one page long and no longer than three pages, but any length in between is acceptable.

The letter writer must emphasize quality rather than quantity. There is no need to increase the word limit if a one-page letter contains all the information required for a top-notch recommendation letter.

Submitting the Letter 

People who write letters on your behalf frequently desire to keep this information private. You can send your letter in any of the following ways and ensure that AMCAS (American Medical College Application Service) approves it:

You can submit all of your letters as an AMCAS application through the premed advising offices at your institution if they offer a letter of evaluation service. 

However, if you decide to use Interfolio, your account subscription will come with the following advantages:

  • A permanent location to request and preserve your correspondence
  • Every letter should undergo a quality control check before being delivered to ensure that it has a signature, official letterhead, and the names of the applicant and letter writer.
  • Confidentiality about the letter's content is assured for both you and the writer. 
  • A customer support team is available to answer all of your inquiries.

Whatever method you use to distribute your letters, consider these suggestions as you move through each stage of the recommendation process. 

Ask the correct people, give them enough time, ensure they have delivered the right content, and make sure you provide the letters entirely and on time.

What to Provide to Letter of Recommendation Writers?

People you ask to compose letters are preoccupied with their lives and careers. Therefore, it is up to you to simplify and streamline the procedure as much as possible.

Hence, you need to provide a few essential components for your letter writers to give you a strong letter of recommendation.

Submission Instructions

Provide the authors of your letters of recommendation with all the information they need to send your letter to the submission service in the form of submission directions. 

Your writer will need to send the letter directly to the service; typically, this is the AMCAS Letter Service (for allopathic medical schools).

This form is a PDF created in the AMCAS application for each of your designated authors. Each letter entry on your AMCAS application is given a Letter ID, a distinct seven-digit number. 

To properly match each letter writer's letter with the letter entry you made in your application, it must be given to them.

Updated CV

A thorough, well-organized, and professional summary of your past school, job, and extracurricular accomplishments. 

Consider using consulting services if you need help writing your CV.

Academic Transcript

Your transcript is another essential part of your letter of recommendation. 

The people you have asked to write should know how well you perform academically, especially if they are not your professors or instructors. 

Personal Statement 

Ideally, it would help to have at least a first copy of your personal statement ready before asking for a letter. Still, you can do so as early as your undergrad. 

If you do not already have a draft, concisely summarize why you want to study medicine, highlighting your particular qualifications.

MCAT Score

This should be listed on your resume, but the letter writer may want to see more tangible proof, like a copy of your results. 

Do not wait to request a letter if you have not taken the MCAT because you do not yet know your MCAT result.

Submission Deadline

Include the limit in writing, either by email or printed alongside the materials you send the letter writer. 

The date should be at least a week before the deadline for submitting the document.

After getting the materials mentioned above, letter writers should have six to eight weeks to complete a letter. This indicates that you should commence the procedure two to three months before the date you intend to submit your application.

Printed Copy of the Materials 

Even though the LOR submission procedure is entirely digital, some letter writers might still prefer to peruse and review physical materials. 

Find out if they would like you to send or mail them a printed packet containing the information above. 

It is up to you to make this process as easy as possible for them. For those who aren't as tech-savvy, including all of your materials and submission information in a neat manila envelope is a lovely touch.

What Should the Letter of Recommendation Include?

People who have witnessed you perform in some capacity — as a student, student leader, employee, researcher, or volunteer — are the finest people to write recommendations for you.

These people can give you the most robust and reliable letter of recommendation. Your writers must be informed of what to include in the letters of recommendation.

Listed below are the components of a strong letter of recommendation for medical school:

An Explanation of How the Writer Knows You 

The context of the relationships is described in the letter's opening paragraph. 

For instance, is the person making the recommendation a teacher, adviser, or boss? How long has your recommendation's source known you?

The writer will be in the best position to represent you to the selection group by outlining the history of your relationship. 

The best letters come from individuals who have worked closely with you on fruitful initiatives and have known you for a year or longer.

An In-Depth Explanation of Your Accomplishments 

The letter should be written with a significant emphasis on the writer's observations of your work's caliber and personal qualities. This part of the letter should be as long as possible. The recommender can make you stand out as a candidate in this situation.

Do not ask each of the individuals you report to for a letter if you have a job where you do. 

Ask your managers to work together on a single message instead. In the same way, avoid asking three biology teachers for letters of recommendation if you are a biology major.

Although they might all be able to compliment you favorably, they will all be doing so from the same point of view. Therefore, the mixture of letters from various fields and viewpoints should be your aim.

Details Regarding Your Work's Results and the Effects You Have Had on Others

The admissions committee focuses on data, facts, and statistics. The letter will stand out from others if you highlight any results from your efforts. 

A person's extraordinary character can be convincingly demonstrated by facts like the number of patients you have helped and glowing recommendations from colleagues. Awards, poster displays, and publications are some additional instances of outcomes.

Contexts of Your Accomplishments

Your achievements are all the more impressive if you are the first family member to complete college. 

Your application to medical school may be aided by information about you, such as the number of languages you speak quickly and your familiarity with other cultures. A few sentences describing your background can improve and stick out in a letter of recommendation to the selection group.

Reasons Why You Will Succeed in Medical School

To demonstrate why you will thrive in med school, the strongest letters of recommendation will highlight unique qualities that the institution has already learned about you.

It lends strong support to your application if you can persuade the selection committee that you are ready for the next stage of your education and will succeed.

10 Tips for Getting a Great Recommendation Letter

Even if you are not writing letters of recommendation, you must know what a strong letter looks like. This will give you an idea of what to strive for as you select the right people to write your letters. 

For your reference, here are the best tips on securing a letter of recommendation that will better your chances of getting admitted into the medical school of your choice. 

Consider Having Your Letters of Recommendation for Medical School Early

The preparation must start much earlier, even though the normal medical school application process does not involve filling out information until a little more than a year before beginning classes.

According to neuroradiologist and author Dr. Robert Wolf, "It is never too early to establish great contacts to obtain good letters.

He continues by saying that once they graduate from high school, students should start thinking about developing relationships that could ultimately result in an evaluation.

If You Can, Attach a Committee Letter

Some colleges help medical school candidates by providing a committee letter — a summary of your achievements and an assessment of your readiness for medical school. 

These are written by either a pre-medical committee or a single pre-medical advisor, and they frequently include advice from several instructors. Seek out a committee letter if you can — and begin the process with a few months to spare — as they help give a comprehensive view of who you are.

Although a committee statement is applicable, medical school admissions committees know that not every student can access it. 

Non-traditional MD applicants who have graduated from medical school can recruit another person who can assess their skills from a relevant perspective.

Research What Specific Universities Require

The Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS), the Ontario Medical School Application Service (OMSAS), and the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) are used by many candidates to submit their applications to universities.

Each platform contains instructions regarding letters of recommendation. Still, it's always a good idea to double-check the specifics with particular schools.

Some institutions may only want three letters; some may want more. Even the kinds of people you should ask for recommendations from and the format and submission requirements are sometimes specified by medical schools.

Choose Wisely in Light of Academic Performance

Select an expert who can evaluate your work. The professor you received a C from is probably not the finest person to serve as your referee. You are not required to choose a lecturer from whom you received an A+. 

It can be a great way for admissions committees to see your motivation for self-improvement. It shows that you address the fact that you received a lower grade than you would have liked. 

For instance, if you received a B+ in chemistry but showed significant improvement in the class by regularly getting extra help from your professor or getting a tutor. 

The GPA standards for medical school are stringent. However, you can still get into medical school even with a low GPA by filling in the gaps in your application.

Cautiously Consider Who You Should Ask to Write Your Letter

It is easier to decide who to ask for letters of recommendation for medical school. They ought to be people who are incredibly familiar with you and who can attest to your skills. 

Remember that the 15 competencies the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) lists are crucial.

A science professor, one or two doctors you have observed, and either a school advisor or a mentor are the people you should be asking. 

No matter who you ask, make sure they are people you know from work, school, charity work, or extracurricular activities. Avoid letters from family members.

Although your family and close acquaintances know you well, they cannot evaluate your potential for success in a work or academic environment. 

A letter from one of these close friends or family members can raise suspicions among a medical school admissions committee. They might think that the candidate might be concealing something or need to make an effort to get credible recommendations.

Establish Positive Bonds with Your References

Numerous undergraduate classes have hundreds of students, making developing a close relationship with your professor challenging. But it would help if you got along well with the professor who will compose your recommendation. 

Attend their office hours, chime in with your inquiries after class, or offer to assist with research if you have concerns.

You can strengthen your entry to medical school by participating in clinical research as a premed or online research as a premed. 

By developing strong bonds with your professors, you give them access to private interactions and experiences they can use as examples when describing you as a deserving applicant.

Be Specific and Direct When Requesting a Statement

Do not worry if you are wondering how to approach a lecturer or doctor about writing one of your evaluations. Be direct and to the point when asking the person for assistance.

"Would you be willing to write a recommendation letter on my behalf?" We advise requesting using this line. Most mentors would probably disagree if they were not sharing positive feedback. 

Keep in Mind That Quality Counts

It is hard to say how much weight medical school reference letters receive compared to other application elements. 

But remember that these evaluations are the only ones that offer perspectives on your skills from the outside. The result could have a big impact.

Letters of recommendation are just as significant as high grades and exam results. A strong letter may tip the scales in one candidate's favor depending on how they are written.

It will go a long way if you discuss letters of reference with someone who knows you well rather than a professor who sees you as one of their hundreds of students. That is not a promise, though. If someone hesitates, say "thank you" and look for the next person to ask.

Make it Simple for the People Who Compose Your Letters.

Given your connection, there is a good chance that your letter writers already have a strong foundation to work with. 

Still, it is a good idea to offer any valuable materials. For example, think about distributing your curriculum vitae (CV), your personal statement from medical school, your grades, and details on how to send the completed evaluation.

Keep everything simple for your professors and mentors. The same is true of schedules. It is a good idea to personally check in with your letter writers. 

Likely, they will not recall when they have to turn in their evaluations. So get in touch with each of them a few weeks before the notes are due.

Express Your Gratitude

Send a note of appreciation to those who wrote your letters of recommendation for medical school because they are crucial. This modest action can significantly contribute to the upkeep of those connections. 

In addition, it is critical to remember that the people who wrote your letters are on your side. Inform them of your development so they can join you in celebrating your achievement.

10 Mistakes to Avoid a Poor Recommendation Letter

Contrarily, you must remember that a weak recommendation letter will not get you further in your medical school application process. 

Hence, listed below are the mistakes you must avoid when securing your letters of recommendation.

Asking to Read the Letter of Recommendation

You are not supposed to read the content of the letters of recommendation. 

If you feel like someone is not going to give you a good recommendation, do not ask them in the first place.

Requesting a Message Without Being Fully Prepared

Once you have chosen a person to write your letter, send them a message immediately. Inform them of everything they need to save both of your time.

Forgetting to Give the Writer the Information They Need

Related to the above, you must always remember to provide your referee with what you need in the letter. Remember, they might be busy too and have many things to do.

Being Too Amiable or Unprofessional When Requesting a Letter

You might lose your chance of securing a solid letter of recommendation if you show unprofessional behavior and conduct. 

Always be polite when asking for a letter of recommendation and following up with your referee.

Asking the Instructor of a Course that You Did Not Receive an A- in

Why even ask a referee in a subject you did not excel at? We encourage you to request a professor whose class you excelled in. This will give your writer many good things to say about your candidacy.

Lack of Letters in Scientific, Non-Science, and Extracurricular Categories

The admissions committee is looking for well-rounded students who excel not just in academics but in other areas as well. 

Do not just focus on science courses…medicine is way more than just the sciences. 

Waiting Too Long to Request a Letter After Failing With Your Previous Options

Always have a plan B. If your first option declines, you still have other people who might be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation. 

Remember that time is crucial, and you should not waste any second of it.

Annoying Your Writers and Constantly Asking Them How the Process is Going

Your referees are not new to writing a letter of recommendation. At some point, they needed it as well. So trust that they know the process and be patient. 

However, ensure that the letter is done two weeks before the due date and ready to be sent.

Not Prioritizing Letters of Recommendation at the Beginning of the Application Process

Letters of recommendation, like the primary and secondary applications, are essential to your admission to medical school. You must know that by heart. 

Early on, you must plan ahead to ensure that you will have these letters as early as possible. 

Asking Strangers Who Do Not Know You Well Enough to Give You Accurate Feedback About Who You Are

The admissions committee will not take your application seriously if you ask people who cannot accurately evaluate who you are as a future doctor. 

Do not make the mistake of asking a friend, a family member, or a stranger who knows nothing about your skills and strengths as a candidate.

Additional FAQs – Letters of Recommendation

How Many Letters of Recommendation Do I Need?

Every institution has different requirements for letters of recommendation for medical school. Most colleges demand a minimum of three letters, though some may require four or five. Verify the precise requirements of each institution you intend to apply to.

We advise all applicants to budget for four to five letters of recommendation distributed among professors of science, non-science, and extracurricular activities since the number varies depending on the institution.

What if a Letter Writer Does Not Submit a Recommendation?

Contact the letter writer and ask them to resubmit the letter if it is not marked as received through your electronic portal.

Rarely will a letter writer cease writing or replying to letters. They have crises, too, because of their professions. This is why it is crucial to plan on writing more notes than what is strictly necessary for your application.

What if Someone I Asked to Write a Letter of Recommendation Declines?

If a prospective letter writer declines, it generally indicates that they do not think they know you well enough. It could also be that they are already overburdened with requests or lack trust in you.

Whatever the cause, it is critical to proceed forward and consider other options.

Even if they hesitate to say yes, it might be best to look elsewhere. A weak or even neutral statement can undermine a solid application for medical school.

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