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How to Ask For a Strong Medical School Letter of Recommendation

By January 22, 2020March 30th, 2020Admissions Advice, Primary AMCAS Application

Letters of recommendation are an extremely important component of your medical school application.  Our goal is to help you request for the best medical school letters of recommendation so you can get accepted to your dream medical schools. 

This blog post will focus on three topics:

  1. How to Ask For Medical School Letters of Recommendation
  2. Sample Request For Letter of Recommendation For Medical School
  3. How Many Letters of Recommendation For Medical School

OUr Students Were Accepted at These Medical Schools the Past 2 Years!

How Many Letters Of Recommendation For Medical School

The purpose of the medical school recommendation letter is for your writers to convey the best things about you onto a document less than a page in length. “Your greatest hits,” so to speak.

There are three critical aspects of the medical school recommendation letter:
  1. Speed
  2. Strength
  3. Specificity
These aspects are important to think about BEFORE you ask for a medical school letter of recommendation.
How to Ask For a Medical School Letter of Recommendation Tip #1 – Speed:

Send a quick thank you to the residents who (a) hosted a dinner (b) led a guided tour, or (c) answered questions / hung out during an interview lunch. These residents took time out of their busy schedules to contribute to a meaningful impression of the program. A small thank you will go a long way, if not to just acknowledge their assistance!

Ideally, you want your letters of recommendation submitted in a timely manner, since most medical schools will not start reviewing your application until it is complete. We can’t stress enough that your application should be turned in as soon as possible, including your letters! Don’t fall into the camp of applicants who crippled an otherwise robust application on account of a slow letter of recommendation writer.

Each undergraduate school has a different way of organizing the medical school recommendation letter. Some schools may require committee letters, whereas other schools may require that you send individual letters to the AMCAS profile. Speed is especially critical if your school participates in committee letters, because all of your other letter writers need to submit their letters of recommendation to your college’s health professions office, which then sends it to your designated committee letter writer.

In that case, there are three rate limiting steps that will affect whether your letters are processed by AMCAS in a timely manner.

  1. Submissions by each medical school letter of recommendation writer to your college health professions office
  2. Submission by the committee medical school letter of recommendation writer to your college health professions office
  3. Submission of the letter packet to AMCAS via the college health professions office

And remember, you’re not the only one applying to med school, so your health professions office may be backlogged, delaying the process.

To read more about medical school committee letters of recommendation, check out our blog here.

What to Do:

  1. Ask for your medical school recommendation letter as early as possible. Your letter of recommendation writers are busy people. Most, if not all, letter writers will be professors, physicians, and others in academic settings. Ask early, because you never know what their schedule entails—they may be on sabbatical, traveling abroad extensively, or, sadly, unresponsive. Give them dates and deadlines, and include that you will be sending them periodic email updates. (Read below for a sample template)
  2. Update your medical school recommendation letter writers often. Check up on the status of your medical school letter of recommendation. This is especially important; most busy people can use with reminders.

Have questions about how to ask for a medical school letter of recommendation or who to ask for a medical school letter of recommendation? Send us a message and we’ll give you more tips and our thoughts!

How to Ask For a Medical School Letter of Recommendation Tip #2 – Strength:

When you make your request, you don’t just want to ask if they could write you a medical school recommendation letter. You want to ask if they could write you a STRONG medical school recommendation letter. This is important, and worth elaborating. Again, we want you to have writers submit the best medical school letters of recommendation.

 Anyone can write a letter of recommendation for someone. Imagine: you’re a professor and someone sent you an email or came to your office hours, politely requesting a letter of rec. Now, you may or may not recognize that person, but people have asked you for letters before, and you have pre-existing templates, so it will hard to refuse. Most letter writers write letters of recommendation out of courtesy, but their content may not vouch strongly for you or exhibit the best of your characteristics. They may write that you attended their lectures and received an “A” in the class…but then what? Will they write that you’re polite? That you don’t have any felonies? Letters of rec are roughly a page in length, and it won’t be long before they start scraping the bottom of the barrel for some substance to scribble. Thus, be straightforward and ask if the letter writer has something genuinely STRONG and SUBSTANTIAL to contribute. If they don’t, then you may have to look for someone else.

The more information you give your letter writer, the easier job it will be for them to write you a STRONG medical school recommendation letter.

  1. Highlight noteworthy characteristics or interactions you’ve had with your letter-writer to jog their memory and bring to fore achievements you want discussed.
  2. Provide an autobiographical sketch with your initial letter request. The autobiographical sketch should include your background, your non-academic interests, and your reasons for pursuing medicine
  3. Additionally, you should provide them a draft of your med school personal statement, if you have it. You don’t have to have the final draft ready. As long as it’s a readable draft (not the first draft), this is acceptable.
  4. Include a CV for reference.

Some letter writers may ask that you “write your letter for them.” While this may sound discouraging (“How do I write about myself??”), this is actually one of the BEST outcomes you can have. After all, this means that (a) they entrust you with a key role on the letter-writing process (b) YOU have a say in what gets written about you. Thus, if a letter writer (we see this more often with physicians) asks for some help with the letter, don’t hesitate to assist! If this happens, don’t be afraid to request corrections, and use strong verbs.

Here is a list of characteristics and attributes
your medical school letter of recommendation writer can highlight:

  • Character
  • Trust
  • Integrity
  • Respect for others
  • Compassion
  • Cultural competence
  • Maturity
  • Responsibility
  • Responsiveness
  • Listening skills
  • Reliability
  • Diligence and persistence
  • Timeliness and punctuality
  • Teamwork and collaboration
  • Academic and intellectual ability
  • Discipline
  • Innovative thinking
  • Creativity
  • Work experience
  • Professionalism
  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • Writing skills
  • Oral communication and presentation skills
  • Critical thinking
How to Ask For a Medical School Letter of Recommendation Tip #3 – Specificity:

You want each letter writer to highlight different aspects of your qualities and strengths. This will cast you in a positive light as a multifaceted, capable individual. Multiple strong letters of recommendation will result in a stellar combination of perspectives. For example, if your principle investigator (PI) in your research lab is one of your medical school recommendation letter writers, you may have them focus on your intellectual curiosity and leadership/initiative in the lab, providing specific examples of such. Likewise, you may have the director of the HIV clinic where you volunteer accentuate your humanistic traits. Finally, don’t discount your personality! If you’re a quirky individual, let that come off in your letter request as such! Each letter of rec is a reflection of who you are, so make sure that it highlights your greatest hits!

Final Tips:
  • Ideally, ask your writer for a medical school recommendation letter in person. Then, say that you’ll send a follow-up email highlighting all the details. At that point, send them the letter request and accompanying documents (personal statement, autobiographical sketch, CV)
  • Titles matter. If your LoR writer holds an esteemed title, i.e. medical director, chairman of the emergency department, discoverer of that one obscure gene protein that somehow matters, it carries weight!
  • For more tips about medical school letters of recommendation, read our other popular blog post on the topic: How To Submit A Strong Medical School Letter of Recommendation

Before sending your professor an email to request a great letter of recommendation for medical school, be sure to read the entire section above on how to ask for a strong letter of rec

During application season, we help our medical school applicants think through their medical school letters of recommendation. It is included in our application packages, because our Cracking Med School Admissions team knows that it is a crucial part of your application. 

While there is no right way to request a letter of recommendation, here is a sample request for letter of recommendation for medical school. 

Dear Professor _____,

I hope you are doing well! I am planning to apply to medical school this application cycle and plan to submit my medical school application June of this year.

I was wondering if you could please write me a strong letter of recommendation for medical school? [Add 1-2 sentences about why you think this person can write you a great medical school letter of recommendation].

I am attaching my current CV to this email and can also send you additional materials, including a draft of my personal statement and other details about my medical school application. Additionally, I am happy to meet with you in-person to discuss my medical school application. 

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

 

Sincerely,

[Your Name]    

How Many Letters Of Recommendation For Medical School
How Many Letters of Recommendation For Medical School Applications? 
One common question our Cracking Med School Admissions team receives is whether or not there are medical school letter of recommendation requirements? Medical schools often accept 3 to 6 letters of recommendation.  Many medical schools do not have strict rules, but think about your letters of recommendation as adding more evidence that you are a stellar applicant.But each school is different and to cover your bases, you should have 2 letters of recommendation from science professors, 1 letter of recommendation from a non science professor, and 1 letter of recommendation from a clinical or volunteer extracurricular activity or job.   For example, look at what Harvard says about Harvard Medical School letters of recommendation requirements on its website:
HMS Letter of Evaluation Recommendations

Source from Harvard Medical School’s website 2020. For more information about Harvard medical school letters of recommendation, please visit Harvard’s webpage.

Cracking Med School Admissions’ Tips About How Many Letters of Recommendation Are Needed For Medical School: 
  • At the minimum, we suggest you have 4 letters of recommendation.
    • 2 letters should be from professors or teachers who taught you in a science course.
    • Many schools highly recommend 1 medical school letter of recommendation to be from a professor who taught you in a non-science course.
    • Finally, you should have at least 1 letter of recommendation from somebody who knows you from a medical / clinical / volunteer setting.
  • Other popular types of individuals our students have asked for letters of recommendations are from:
    • Coaches
    • Employers
    • Managers
    • Long-term mentors
    • Physicians they have shadowed
    • Lab PI’s or post-docs
  • Be sure each letter talks about a unique perspective about you.  To state the obvious, professors who write medical school letters of recommendations for you should talk about your intellect and academic abilities.  Other rec writers can talk about your leadership abilities, personal attributes, and work ethic.
  • Our Cracking Med School Admissions book gives examples of who each author asked for letters of recommendation and what the letter writer emphasized.
    • In one Cracking Med School Admissions author’s medical school application, she had letters of recommendation from:
      • 2 science professors
      • 1 non-science letter of recommendation with a professor who taught her during a  junior-year research project
      • 1 senior thesis advisor
      • 1 doctor she shadowed and did public health work with in the Philippines

Blog post written by Andrew Park & Rachel Rizal

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