How to Get the Most out of Medical School Recommendation Letter

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

Medical School Recommendation Letter Tip #1 – Speed:

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.

Medical School Recommendation Letter 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. 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.

Medical School Recommendation Letter 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. 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!

Have a question? Contact us.