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How to Secure Strong Medical School Letters of Recommendation

January 30, 2023
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Why Are Medical School Letters of Recommendation Important?Types of Recommendation WritersHow to Choose Your Letter WritersWhen to Ask for Letters of Rec for Medical SchoolHow to Ask for a Medical School Letter of RecommendationGetting a Strong Recommendation Letter for Med SchoolRecommendation Letter for Medical School ExampleFAQs: Letters of Recommendation for Med School

”Jonathan

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/31/22

Are you looking to secure excellent letters of recommendation for your med school application?  You’re in luck! Follow along to learn everything you need to know about asking for and acquiring LoRs for med school. 

A good set of letters can mean the difference between getting into an average school or an excellent school. That’s why it’s vital to understand how to secure strong med school letters of recommendation. 

A good letter of recommendation for medical school will be an objective, external review and commentary on your strengths and achievements. This guide will explain what these letters are and how to acquire a good letter of recommendation for medical school. 

Infographic outlining how to secure strong medical school letters of recommendation
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Why Are Medical School Letters of Recommendation Important?

There are a few key reasons why letters of recommendation are important. Above all, they vouch for you and show that other people can back up the statements you are making in your application. 

Think of it like gathering evidence or citing sources: They reinforce claims and show them to be true. There are four vital points that make letters of recommendation essential to get right:

1. They Show You Can Learn and Grow

Being in medicine means thinking on your feet, always adapting, and constantly readjusting yourself. So, one of the significant things letters of medical school letters of recommendation do is show you can learn, grow, and adapt to changing situations. 

If your letter of recommendation makes it clear that you do this well, you are likely to make a better impression on medical school admission officers. Of course, part of this means having good grades and solid class attendance. These go a long way in showing that you are equipped with the skills to thrive in medical school.

2. They Show Your Personality at Its Best

Whether that ends up being patients, doctors, maintenance staff, or nurses, getting along with others is a trait you must have. Your letters of recommendation will help showcase this trait.

As will be explained in more detail later, part of securing letters of recommendation is the process of asking for them. That means being someone the letter writer remembers well and feels good about, which requires you to be sociable and kind.

Keep that in mind as you take classes, work, and volunteer. Make friends with professors, supervisors, managers, and other similar people who will later remember you and what you did when working together.

3. They Show Your Accomplishments So Far

To be a strong candidate that medical school admissions officers see as someone worthy of entry, you also need to exhibit strong achievements. Your medical school letters of recommendation are the perfect place to do this.

In these letters, your recommenders can point out specific events, accomplishments, or creations from your life. In doing so, they will show where your skills lie and how you utilize them to create actionable changes in the world. 

On top of that, your accomplishments exhibit drive, admission, and determination. Med school admissions officers will likely be happy to see that you do not give up and persevere despite setbacks to achieve your goals. Tenacity like that helps set you out from the crowd.

4. They Highlight Your Essential Qualities

Beyond the hard skills that are key for you to master, medical school letters of recommendation also highlight your soft skills. These are things you may not be taught directly in classrooms or read about in textbooks. But they are skills admissions officers keep an eye out for when reviewing applications.

Empathy is a major soft skill that letters of recommendation can vouch for. This is hard to convey with standardized tests or grades. But your letters are the perfect place to make it clear you have emotional intelligence. They can contain stories about your ability to understand other peoples’ emotions and states in life. 

Your letters also show you can communicate effectively. While essays might hint at your ability to write, letters of recommendation go beyond that. They provide med schools with information about how you convey ideas and work with other people to create consensus and compromise.

Letters of recommendation can further exhibit your problem-solving skills. Yes, tests and grades show this ability to admissions officers, too. But your letters will contain examples and elaborate on how you apply this skill to the real world.

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Types of Recommendation Writers

To understand the types of medical school letters of recommendation writers, you need to know the different types of letters you could be required to submit. These include:

Committee letters come from a group of people in a pre-health committee or a pre-health advisor. Conversely, a letter packet, which your institution often puts together, may have a cover letter, but it does not contain any committee letters. Finally, individual letters are written solely by a single person.

With that in mind, you can start your search for writers. 

Professors 

A good group of people to contact at first is your professors — namely, professors you know well and in whose classes you have performed excellently during your time in school. 

Do not select professors in whose classes you merely got a 95 percent in and then left; by “know well,” we mean professors who clearly remember you and with whom you’ve worked for a long time.

Supervisors 

You can also ask the supervisors for any volunteer or extracurricular experiences you have pursued. Again, make sure they know you well and that you have been in the position for a while. 

Lab supervisors and high-ranking colleagues could also be good options. But ensure they are experienced and have extensive knowledge and oversight of you before you ask.

It is important to remember not to shadow a doctor or take on any role merely to secure a letter writer. This is disingenuous, and doing so will likely be detrimental. Your letters of recommendation are meant to be honest reflections of your true personality and should not be viewed as mere tokens. 

To stay organized during this process, you should make a thorough list of the schools you are applying to and the kinds of letters they want you to send. Make sure you note their due dates and review your admissions materials to understand any specific requirements a particular medical school may have for your letters.

How to Choose your Letter Writers

Along with different types of writers and letters comes the question of selecting who will create your letters of recommendation for med school. This is a critical consideration, and you should think it over carefully before deciding. 

You are going to want to account for a few key ideas and objectives in your selections. Many schools and job boards send out tips on writing letters, and it can help to consult these types of guides. Ask your career and continuing education office if they have any such advice, too.

As mentioned above, your letter writers should be professional individuals or organizations that you know well and with whom you have spent a long time working. They should be people like professors, managers, supervisors, and the like. Obtaining a letter from a doctor would go especially far when it comes to applying to medical schools.

Furthermore, it makes sense to choose writers with whom you are on friendly terms and feel comfortable asking for such an important document. Recall that part of the process is in the asking, so you should always keep in mind that point when searching for the perfect writers.

With that in mind, the people you ask should have seen your best qualities in action repeatedly. Those you ask should be people you have interacted with multiple times in varied scenarios and who have seen you adapt, respond, and grow your skill set and seen you mature over a long period.

Remember, even if you got a high score in one class or had a conversation with a supervisor once, it does not make them viable candidates. 

When to Ask for Letters of Rec for Medical School

After you have decided on the writers of your letters of recommendation, you must ask as early as possible to give them ample time to write. 

It takes a long time for your writers to consider what to include in a medical school application letter of recommendation, so give them time. Plus, these are busy professionals you are asking, and they already have a lot on their plates. So, it is polite and proper to afford them any extra time you can.

Do not forget the deadlines for your medical school admissions and give these important dates to your chosen writers as well. It is usually best to ask for your letters of recommendation and have them secured from January to April. 

UC Berkeley recommends you request your letters several months before you submit your application. This time frame lines up well with many medical schools’ requirements. Alternatively, you can request them at the time of submission. But this is a risky strategy! 

Asking early for a letter of recommendation for medical school gives your writer the necessary time to write you a strong letter. Additionally, it allows them to edit and re-edit it to submit the best recommendation letters for you. 

How to Ask for a Medical School Letter of Recommendation

Asking for a letter of recommendation for medical school can be a daunting prospect. But once you know how to ask for a letter of recommendation for medical school, it will be less nerve-wracking! 

Harvard recommends you make an appointment with each of your prospective writers. It is always best to meet your recommender in person. However, email is the next best method of communication. 

When you finally meet your recommender, begin by asking them if they feel comfortable providing a medical school application letter of recommendation for you. If they seem hesitant, thank them for their time and find a new recommender. 

But what if you’re unsure if the person who you get a letter of recommendation from for medical school will give you a good recommendation? 

In that case, you can always ask your writer honestly if they can write a strong letter for you. Taking the time to choose a writer who is passionate about your application is better than receiving a negative or lukewarm letter. 

As noted above, choose a writer who can speak to your best qualities. As Harvard notes, the ideal recommender will “provide the most positive and complete picture of your relevant skills, experiences, and character traits.” 

So, take the time to choose a writer who will produce the best letter of recommendation for medical school for you. 

Getting a Strong Recommendation Letter for Med School

With everything above in mind, here are a few tips that will help your med school letters of recommendation stand out and really impress admissions officers. 

1. Ask the Right People 

Ask people who know you well, who have seen your best skills in action, and who are professionals in their field with extensive examples and memories of what you have done and who you are as a person. 

For example, if you have amazing volunteering experiences under your belt, remind your writers about them so they include them in your letters. Or you can ask a professor with whom you have many classes and labs and who regularly comments on how well you are doing.

2. Be Friendly when Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Along with that, be sure to be cordial and friendly when asking for your letters. If you are short or rude, it may be reflected in the resulting letter. Along with this point, always be sure that the people you will ask to write your letters are likely to say yes to you. If you have doubts about this, it is usually best to find someone else.

That is because you want a strong letter that communicates just how passionate someone is about your ability to succeed. If you have to cajole or convince someone to write your letter, the results are less likely to get that across and impress admissions officers. 

Make a list of potential candidates and have backups for ones you are unsure of, as well as general backups in case anyone is too busy to write a letter.

3. Ensure You Have a Rec Letter Format for Medical School

Another vital thing to remember is to have a pre-formatted letter template with a header available that your writers can use to create their letters. This is important because many schools mandate that you should format any letters you submit in such a manner. 

Not all of them do, but enough require this that it is worthwhile to create a rec letter format for med school that every writer can use. That way, you will not have to worry about which schools need any special formatting because all your letters will have a consistent look.

4. Be Your Best, Always

An overall rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: The process of receiving outstanding letters of recommendation begins long before you even think of asking. It starts with being a good student, a fantastic volunteer, and a great colleague.

Recommendation Letter for Medical School Example

Here’s an excellent example of a letter of recommendation for medical school from a professor. Take note of the relation between the professor and the student, the amount of experience he elaborates on, and his wording.

Sample letter of recommendation for medical school
Sample letter of recommendation for medical school part 2

It’s important to note that your letters must come from whoever’s name is at the bottom of the page. You are welcome to make a template, but making edits to their writing or writing letters for yourself is strictly prohibited and could get you into serious trouble. Our example is only meant to be used for learning purposes. 

FAQs: Letters of Recommendation for Med School

Acquiring a great letter of recommendation for med school can take months. But it is worth it! Below, we have outlined several questions and answers to help you get into med school. 

1. Who Should I Ask To Write My Letters Of Recommendation?

Professional references are best for medical school letters of recommendation. 

Consider asking professors in whose classes you performed well and supervisors who commented on how well you worked. Additionally, you can ask other such people who can vouch for your character and aptitude.

2. Does It Matter If My Writers Are All The Same Type Of Person?

Yes, so you should do your best to avoid this type of situation. In general, medical schools want to see a broad range of people vouching for you across different disciplines and fields of study in your medical school letters of recommendation. 

Usually, if you are not in a pre-med program at your current school (which, as mentioned, can create a committee letter for you when you request it), they want to see letters from:

These are general best practices, so be sure to check your admissions packets.

3. What Do I Do If Someone I Ask To Write A Recommendation Letter Says No?

Receiving a rejection of a request to write a recommendation letter for med school is disappointing, but consider it a silver lining. 

It is far better to receive a “no” and find someone truly passionate about writing you a letter than it is to receive a letter that only includes half-hearted support for you. If the person you ask declines to write a letter, ask someone else. 

That is why it is good to create a list of programs you are applying to and people you can ask to create letters, along with backup options.

4. Who Should I Avoid Asking for A Letter of Recommendation For Medical School?

The people writing your medical school letters of recommendation must be professional references or from proper volunteering situations. Do not use personal references. 

Suppose a parent or friend is a doctor or other type of professional. In that case, it usually will not be possible for them to create an official letter for you due to conflict of interest laws. It is often best to save those types of stories for your personal essays, when applicable.

5. What Should I Do If A Letter Is Taking Too Long To Arrive Or I Feel As If The Writer Has Forgotten About It?

It is polite and expected of you to send gentle reminders every so often about your request for a letter of recommendation. 

Be kind and understanding in your reminders, but do not worry about intruding or annoying your writers. Remember — they have a lot going on and will likely appreciate small, gentle reminders that help keep them on track.

6. Can I Share My Medical School Letters Of Recommendation With Others?

No. Medical school letters of recommendation are only meant to be seen by the writer and the school. No one else should see your letters.

You might be tempted to be a good friend and share a letter with somebody to help them out, but remember that plagiarism is a serious issue and the consequences are dire. If you feel particularly grateful, you can always profusely thank a writer after being admitted to the medical school of your dreams.

7. Is It Better To Have Lots Of Letters Or Fewer High-Quality Letters?

Ideally, you would want both quality and quantity. However, if push comes to shove, it is better to have fewer high-quality medical school letters of recommendation than lots of generic, lower-quality letters. 

For example, suppose the medical school you are applying to requires at least six letters of recommendation but allows up to 10. In that case, it is better to have six outstanding letters than to have 10 mediocre letters from people who do not really know you.

8. How Many Letters Of Recommendation Do I Need For Medical School?

Typically, medical schools require at least 2-3 letters of recommendation, however, there’s usually no cap to how many you can provide. Generally speaking, you should aim for at least three strong letters of recommendation, and any more that you can secure are even better. 

9. Is 6 Letters Of Recommendation Too Much For Medical School?

Although most medical schools only require 2-3 letters of recommendation, submitting more than that won’t hurt your application at all. In fact, having more letters can provide a better picture of your qualifications, and demonstrate that you have a range of support from different sources. However, keep in mind that quality is far more important than quantity. 

Securing Strong Letters of Recommendation for Med School? Plan Ahead

Securing solid letters of medical school letters of recommendation is a key aspect of a strong admissions packet to gain entrance to medical school. There is no need to fear the process, however. 

With some planning, thought, and proactive steps on your end, you will be sure to get a leg up on the process. Asking the right people for letters with plenty of notice is vital, as is remembering to be polite and professional. 

As long as you have been a good student, have solid extracurricular activities under your belt, and get along with your professors, colleagues, lab mates, and fellow volunteers, you will be sure to snag many shining letters of recommendation.

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