How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation for Medical School

September 15, 2023
14 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 9/15/23

Asking for recommendation letters for medical school doesn’t have to be intimidating. Read on to learn how to ask for a recommendation letter!

Med school applications require recommendation letters. Our guide will help you successfully navigate how to obtain strong letters of recommendation for your med school application. We’ll explore what to do before, during, and after you ask for the best medical school letter of recommendation possible. 

asking or recommendation letters for med school
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Purpose of Letters of Recommendation

Medical school application letters of recommendation are used to evaluate applicants in several ways. They allow admissions committees to learn more about your: 

  • Unique qualities
  • Strengths
  • Accomplishments
  • Work ethic
  • Suitability for medical school

It’s crucial to ask for rec letters from references who will be enthusiastic about you, your work, and your leadership potential. Aim to ask recommenders who know you well and can write about your best attributes. 

Letters of recommendation from writers who don’t know you well won’t strengthen your application. Let’s review some key insights on securing the best recommendation letters possible. We’ll discuss steps and helpful tips to consider before, during, and after you ask for recommendations.

Asking for Recommendation Letters: Before You Ask

Before asking for a letter of recommendation, it’s important to know the medical school application requirements. The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) provides detailed instructions on preparing letters of evaluation. In particular, take note of the following AMCAS guidelines.

Prepare Your Letter Writers

Ensure your references have the current “Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicant.” This document lets your references know what to include in your rec letters. 

While these guidelines are optional, they’re useful. We suggest you share them because they outline the core competencies medical schools seek in students. 

The process is simpler if your references have a structure to work from. These guidelines help your recommenders write you a strong letter of recommendation.

Find Out if Your Medical Schools Participate in the AMCAS Letter Service

Because your references submit recommendations on your behalf, the AMCAS Letter Service allows letter writers to submit them electronically. AMCAS distributes the recommendation letters to participating med schools. 

You’ll need to check with medical schools to determine if they participate in the AMCAS Letter Service. 

Know the Different Ways Letters of Evaluation Can Be Submitted

Some medical schools participate in the AMCAS Letter Service. There are ways to submit letters of evaluation to AMCAS electronically or by mail. Always check with schools and AMCAS to follow submission instructions.

We’ll cover how many letters you’ll need for your medical school application and other requirements to consider before you connect with potential recommenders. The number of recommendations you need depends on each school’s admissions requirements

Most med schools require three letters of evaluation, but some schools ask for four or five. So, check the requirements at each school you’re applying to. There are three types of recommendation letters: 

  1. Committee Letters: Committee letters are common. They’re written by your university’s pre-med advising committee. This type of letter isn’t available at every university, so verify with your school in advance.
  1. Letter Packets: Letter packets are another option offered at some universities. Letter packets are letters assembled from your references. The school’s career center sends them, but they don’t include letters from pre-med advising committees.
  1. Individual Letters: Individual letters are also common. They’re typically written by faculty members, physicians, employers, and research, volunteering, or extracurricular supervisors. 

Determine whether your university offers committee letters of letter packets before asking for a letter of recommendation from faculty members.

What to Provide to Letter of Recommendation Writers

Your recommenders will be doing you a huge favor by taking time out of their busy schedules to write you a letter. To make the process easier for them, you can provide them with a few key materials:

  • The AAMC guidelines for letters of evaluation 
  • An updated resume or a list of your proudest achievements
  • A cover letter
  • A summary of your performance in their class/within their organization
  • A list of key traits you would like them to discuss
  • A copy of your personal statement, if available
  • Some sample letters you wrote or found online that you’d like them to mimic
  • Your MCAT score 
  • Your academic transcript

By providing all this information, you increase the likelihood of receiving strong and personalized letters of recommendation!

Who To Ask for Letters of Recommendation for Medical School

Generally, most medical school recommendation letters are written by: 

  • Science and non-science faculty members 
  • Physicians
  • Research supervisors 
  • Employers
  • Volunteering and extracurricular supervisors. 

Let’s explore them to help you decide who to ask for letters of recommendation for medical school.  

Science Faculty Members 

Science faculty members include professors and teaching assistants in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics departments. 

A person writing on a board

Non-Science Faculty Members 

Non-science faculty members are professors and teaching assistants in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Some med schools require two letters of recommendation from science faculty and one from non-science faculty. 

Pro tip: Ask various sources for letters expressing your well-rounded skills. For example, asking a biology professor, a physics professor, and a humanities professor will provide ample variety in your qualifications and strengths.


If you shadowed or volunteered for a physician, you can ask them to write you a med school recommendation. Just ensure they know you well and can discuss your strengths and traits. 

For example, some students may do a half-day shadow with a physician and think it’s a good idea to ask them for a recommendation letter — it’s not. However, if students have been supervised by and shadowed a physician several times, it’s okay to ask them for a recommendation.

Research Supervisors 

Research supervisors are a good source to ask if you’ve worked on a research project. They can give specific examples about your research project and accomplishments.


If you have employment experience, you can ask your supervisor to write your recommendation. Your supervisor has direct experience with you. They can discuss your strengths, desirable qualities, leadership skills, and other core competencies and skills.

Volunteering/Extracurricular Supervisors

Suppose you volunteered at a hospital or were part of an athletic team. In that case, your supervisor or coach can write recommendation letters highlighting your talents and abilities. 

Assess Your Options 

Above all, you should ask those who know you well because these people will write you glowing letters of recommendation for medical school. 

Remember, you should maintain a working relationship with your letter writers for a consistent time (several months to a year or more) for a strong letter of recommendation for medical school. Be mindful of application guidelines!

Best Time to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

You want to give your recommenders enough time to get to know you, so students typically ask their professors near the end of the semester, and employers/supervisors at least a few months into their contracts. 

Provide them with several weeks to a couple of months to complete the letters, considering their busy schedules. Avoid requesting recommendations during exam periods and steer clear of last-minute requests!

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Med School & Example Email

Knowing how to ask for a recommendation letter will help you obtain strong, glowing evaluations from supportive references. 

How to Ask a Doctor for a Medical School Recommendation Letter

Here are several steps to follow when asking for a letter of recommendation: 

Start Early 

When asking for recommendation letters, be mindful of application deadlines. Generally, you should ask your writers for rec letters several months before they need to be submitted. 

Asking for your letters ahead of time gives your writers time to write and reflect on your strengths. It also ensures they won’t rush through the process or make mistakes. 

You should ask your letter writers while working with them or before your project, mentorship, shadowing, employment, or semester ends. This ensures that your letter writers don’t forget you and your quality of work as time passes.

Contact Your Potential Recommenders 

Asking for recommendation letters can be done in person or via email. You can also speak with a professor during office hours or an employer during their break for in-person communication. When asking for medical school recommendation letters via email, it’s important to: 

  • Keep your language and tone professional
  • Be concise
  • Be specific in your expectations of what the letter should include

You can also offer your writer instructions and guidance and express gratitude for their support.

Your potential references will say yes or no. If they say no, don’t lose confidence—just ask someone else. Remember not to take it personally. Perhaps they have too many obligations or don’t know you well enough to write a good letter. 

Provide Your Recommenders with Your Application Materials 

Once your recommenders are happy to write you a letter, provide them with materials; recommenders commonly ask to see your personal statements and resumes.  

If you’re asking for letters of recommendation from doctors you shadowed, provide them with several details of your experience. This helps them remember you and personalize letters of recommendation, as physicians often write letters for several students. 

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Medical School: Sample Email 

Knowing how to ask for a recommendation letter for medical school starts with learning how to format your request. This sample email, provided by The University of Maine Institute of Medicine, illustrates how to ask for letters professionally and appropriately:

Dear Dr. ______
I am beginning the process of applying to (medical school, dental school, optometry school, veterinary school, etc.) and would like to request a letter of recommendation from you. Since taking your BIO xxx course, I have completed my pre-med minor and have been working on a research project in the field of xxx. 
In your letter, I would like you to focus on my academic abilities and leadership potential (include examples or other focus items). You may recall that I was the team leader for our project on xxx. Your letter will be included in my Health Professions file and become part of my composite letter of recommendation. Please make your letter as explicit and concrete as possible and give examples. You have my permission to include grades and/or class rank in your letter.
I have included a resume, which outlines my achievements, activities, and experiences. If you feel it would be helpful, I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this letter and my professional goals.
Please complete your letter by XXX. Send an email copy of your letter to and send a signed copy of your letter directly to the Health Professions Committee at:
Career Center
5748 Memorial Union
University of Maine
Orono, ME 04469-5748
Thank you for your willingness to write this letter of recommendation. 
Your Name

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these mistakes when securing your letters of recommendation:

  • Waiting till the last minute: Last-minute requests can lead to rushed, generic, or even incomplete letters of recommendation, undermining your application's strength.
  • Choosing the wrong recommenders: Your writers need to know you will and should have either taught or mentored you. Avoid choosing a professor solely for their reputation. If they don’t know your name or are reluctant to write you a letter, they’re the wrong person to ask!
  • Not diversifying your recommenders: Avoid requesting all your letters from similar sources, such as professors. It's beneficial to have letters from a variety of individuals who can speak to different aspects of your qualifications.
  • Lack of follow-ups: Stay engaged with your recommenders throughout the process. They’re busy so don’t be afraid to provide gentle reminders about deadlines and always express your gratitude for their help.

By being aware of these common pitfalls and taking proactive steps to avoid them, you can enhance the quality of your letters of recommendation!

Asking for Recommendation Letters: After You Ask

Part of networking and being professional is demonstrating good conduct after asking for recommendation letters. To do this, don’t check in with your letter writers frequently or pressure them. 

Allow sufficient time after requesting a letter of recommendation for your writers to complete it. You can check in with them a couple of weeks before your application deadline to confirm they’ve submitted your letter. 

Send them a follow-up thank you email once your medical school deadline has passed. Your thank-you email can be brief while properly expressing gratitude. For example, follow this sample structure:

  1. A polite greeting (Dear Dr. ______ )
  2. A clear statement expressing your appreciation
  3. If applicable, an update about the medical school to which you applied
  4. A professional closing and your signature

You can also send a thank-you card once you’ve been accepted to medical school. A thank-you card adds a personal touch and lets your letter writers know their help was invaluable. This gesture also ensures you maintain a good working relationship with them for future endeavors. 

FAQs: Asking for Med School Rec Letters

We’ve outlined several questions and answers to help you understand how to ask for a letter of recommendation for medical school. 

1. How Should I Approach Asking for a Med School Letter of Recommendation? 

If you remember only one thing about asking for recommendation letters for your medical school application, let it be this: etiquette, etiquette, etiquette. Your correspondence with your letter writers should always be professional.

2. What Information Should I Give My Recommenders?

Always provide them with a copy of your: 

  • CV
  • Cover letter
  • Med school application guidelines (including recommendation letter submission instructions and deadlines) 
  • Accomplishments not listed on your CV (such as publications and professional/education associations)
  • Official transcripts
  • MCAT test scores, if available

Your letter writer may also appreciate a copy of your personal statement if you have a draft. 

4. What Recommenders Need to Know Before Writing Letters of Recommendations?

Your recommenders should just know where you’re hoping to apply, what program, and what you’d like them to highlight. Be clear on the fact that you need concrete examples and give them some inspiration! Provide them with achievements and traits you’d like them to discuss. 

5. How Long Should a Letter of Recommendation for Med School Be?

Typically, recommendation letters are one to three pages long. Remember, admissions officers value the quality of your letter’s content over its length. 

6. Can I Ask to See My Recommendation Letters?

No, you should never ask to read your recommendation letters. This allows your references to write about you honestly. You should trust your writers to have your best interest in mind and write robust recommendations advocating for your strengths. You should waive your right to review your letters.

7. How Many Letters of Recommendation Do I Need for Medical School?

Every medical school has unique requirements for how many recommendation letters to submit. Many med schools require recommendation letters from different sources, so pay close attention to application instructions. 

Pro tip: Ask for one or two recommendation letters that are backups. Suppose a recommender falls through, and can no longer write your letter. You’ll have one or two extra rec letters you can use in your medical school application if you need them.  

8. Why Are Medical School Letters of Evaluation Important?

Admissions officers have the difficult task of reviewing many applicants. Quantitative factors like GPAs and MCAT scores can be similar among the top applicants. That’s why admissions officers need something more personal to evaluate your candidacy. 

9. What Is a Physician Letter of Recommendation?  

A physician letter of recommendation is written by a physician you’ve shadowed or worked with and know well. 

10. How Old Can Letters of Recommendation Be for Medical School? 

Most applicants ask for recommendation letters in the same year they plan to apply to med school. However, if your letter is more than two or three years old, it may not be the most effective to include in your application. Some schools won’t require letters from faculty, depending on how long ago you graduated college. 

11. What To Include in a Cover Letter for Medical School Letter of Recommendation?

A cover letter for a medical school letter of recommendation should serve as a formal and respectful introduction to the recommendation writer. It should provide context, guidance, and express your gratitude. Highlight your reason for requesting a letter, why you chose the writer, and briefly outline what you’d like them to focus on.

Final Thoughts: Asking for Rec Letters for Medical School

Recommendation letters for medical school are crucial to your application. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lost with so many factors to consider. After all, you must research application requirements, submission deadlines, forms, how to access online portals, and how to ask for med school recommendation letters.

Our guide simplifies the process and takes the stress out of preparation. Remember to follow these tips to receive the best medical school letter of recommendation!

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