Letters of Recommendation – The Basics

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

What is a letter of recommendation?


A letter of recommendation is a written statement by a mentor that describes what qualities make you a good candidate for medical school acceptance.


Why do medical schools want them?


Medical schools want to hear from professors and mentors who really know you. They have to sort through thousands of applicants with similar scores and relatively similar baseline experiences (shadowing and volunteering, for example). Letters are just one more tool to help differentiate you from your fellow applicants. Schools like to read letters that provide insight into your ability to work as a team member, a student, a researcher, a care provider, etc.


Who should write me a letter of recommendation?


Arguably more important than who writes your letter is the content of that letter. Getting a letter from a former dean of a medical school might seem like the perfect letter, but if it’s vague and impersonal, it could hurt you. Only get letters from people who actually know you and are willing to write a strong letter.


Schools vary widely on their letter of recommendation requirements. Check MSAR for specifics. If your school has a letter committee, almost every school will require a recommendation from them. Find out as soon as you can whether your school has a letter committee. If not, most schools will require you to submit letters from various writers.


Normally this will include at least 2 letters from professors: 1 science (biology, chemistry, math, physics, no labs) and 1 non-science (everything else). Others may include a research supervisor, other supervisors (work, etc.), volunteer coordinator, or physician. To be safe and cover your bases for most schools, I would recommend getting 2 science professor letters, 1 non-science professor letter, 1 supervisor (research/volunteer/work), and 1 physician.


What should they write about?


There is a very easy answer to this one. AMCAS has an official guideline for letter writers. When I asked for letters, I sent them this pdf after I highlighted the areas that I thought pertained to my relationship with the specific letter writer. I asked them to focus on the portions I highlighted to give them an idea of what to write about. I highlighted different things for different mentors.


Click here to find an article about when and how to ask for letters.


KEY Points


  • Letters of recommendation are more witnesses to your ability to succeed in the medical field

  • Letter Writers: 2 science professors, 1 non-science professor, Physician, and Supervisor (one or more of: Research/Volunteer/Work/Other)

  • Use the link to find a guide for letter writers

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