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Letters of recommendation are a very important and essential requirement of your medical school applications. A strong letter may make the difference between moving to the next stage in the process and getting an impersonal rejection. The letters help attest to who you are, your skills and personal characteristics, and the unique qualities you have that make you a well-prepared candidate for medical school. Read more to discover relevant information and answers to frequently asked questions about obtaining strong letters of recommendation for medical school.
How Many Letters of Recommendation Are Required?
The number of letters of recommendation required depends on the medical school. Typically, schools ask for two to three letters of recommendation. Of these, two come from science professors and one from a professor outside of biology, chemistry, math, and physics. However, you are able to add up to 10 letter entries to the AMCAS application, then assign which ones go to particular schools.
Different Types of Letters of Recommendation
Yes! The AMCAS application has three types of letter entries: the committee letter, the letter packet, and an individual letter. Do your research before requesting and assigning letter entries. Some schools may be interested in a particular type of letter.
What Is a Committee Letter?
A committee letter, also called a composite letter, is a letter of recommendation written by a pre-health committee, which includes a pre-med advisor and a few other faculty members. It evaluates your accomplishments, challenges you have endured over the course of your education, and your drive and preparedness for a career in medicine. If a committee letter is an option for you, it is highly advised that you do request one.
Many pre-health programs that offer committee letters require the applicant to meet certain criteria before they can obtain the letter. Some of these requirements can include completion of specific courses, self-reflection essays, interviews, and service hours. It is important to start the process early and make a note of all deadlines.
The committee letter process may also be a helpful tool in your preparation for the medical school application and subsequent interviews. The committee takes into account your academics, your interest in medicine, and extracurricular activities that prepare you for medical school, like volunteer work or shadowing experiences. You will need to prepare to articulate your experiences and answer any questions relating to these prior to your medical school interviews.
What Is a Letter Packet?
A letter packet is a set of multiple letters of recommendation typically sent by the career center. It includes a cover letter from the pre-health committee but does not include a committee letter or evaluation. Although there are multiple letters, the letter packet counts as one entry on the AMCAS application.
Who Should Write my Letters of Recommendation?
Choosing the right person for a letter of recommendation can be challenging. Consider the science professor who recognized your hard work and growth in their class, the physician you shadowed and built a good rapport with, or the non-science professor who saw your engagement in understanding and applying information from their course. These would all be great choices.
If an option to you, consider asking a pre-health advisor or pre-health committee to write a recommendation.
The purpose of the letter of recommendation is to provide a personal perspective, outline the narrative of your educational journey, and endorse your unique qualifications as a medical school candidate. It should help fill in any gaps to your story and soften any weaknesses or missteps. It should attest to your personality, your tenacity in withstanding academic rigor, and other qualities that make you a great candidate for medical school. Make sure your recommenders are well-versed in your story, and outlining your achievements can help their composition.
When Should I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
It is best to ask for a letter of recommendation about two to three months prior to the deadline for your AMCAS application. It is possible to submit the AMCAS application without having all your letters submitted. Be sure to note and meet the deadlines of the specific medical schools you are applying to and don't let a missed letter deadline sink your application.
Asking for a letter of recommendation too far in advance might make it difficult for the recommender to remember. Asking too late may not give enough time for the recommender to write a quality letter. Additionally, if a recommender is unable to provide a letter, two to three months out still gives you enough time to ask someone else to provide one.
Give a firm deadline to receive the letter, perhaps two weeks after your request. Feel free to politely check-in with your recommender if you are noticing a delay in receiving the letter.
How Do I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
The process to ask for a letter of recommendation will depend on the type of letter. For a committee letter, you will likely need to follow a specified process, which may include interviews and meeting course requirements, before you are eligible for the evaluation letter.
For individual letters of recommendation, you might ask in person, send an email, call, or even mail a cover letter and packet of information. If it has been a while since you last saw your recommender or were in his class, start with personal greetings and then briefly tell them what you have been up to and the reason for the request. Specifically note the deadline and if the letter is designated for a specific medical school you are applying to. If they express a willingness, ask if they need any source materials-such as a resume or curriculum vitae-and give them guidance as to the proposed length and format of the letter.
Once the letter is written and received, follow up with a thank you note.
How Do I Submit My Letters of Recommendation?
You won't be responsible for submitting the letters yourself. However, on the AMCAS application, you submit a letter entry for each letter you requested and include the contact information for the recommender. During submission, consider waiving your right to see the letter. This will give the medical school application committee confidence that the letter is written honestly.
Letters are either mailed in to the AAMC or submitted electronically. If your recommender plans on mailing the letter, they will need to include a Letter Request Form, which you can download and send to them ahead of time. This form allows the AAMC to connect your AAMC ID to the letter. Similarly, if your letter is submitted electronically, make sure the recommender has your AAMC ID and the Letter ID number.
You can check in periodically to ensure your letters are matched. Once a letter is submitted and matched, the AAMC will send it over to the assigned receiving school.
Notes on a Good Letter of Recommendation for Medical School
Remember that a good letter of recommendation starts before you ask. Any professor could be a potential letter writer. Think critically about who you ask. Consider these reflections on your relationship:
- How is your rapport?
- Do they know you and your story?
- Can they attest to your story?
Not only is a good letter of recommendation reliant on the letter writer, it also depends heavily on you. You need to give the recommender good content, right? If you are preparing to ask for a letter of recommendation, you already know that in preparation for medical school, it is important to involve yourself in activities that teach you about serving others, challenge your knowledge, and give you a glimpse into the career of a physician. These activities give the recommender some context into your preparedness for medical school, while giving you the experiences you will reflect on as you continue your journey into medicine.
- AAMC. Advisor Corner: Preparing for Committee Letter Process.
- AAMC. (2019). 2020 AMCAS® Applicant Guide PDF File.