Medical School Letters of Recommendation - The Complete Guide

November 13, 2023
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 11/13/23

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. 

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How to Ask for Letters of Recommendation for Medical School

We've compiled a  helpful list of ways to help you request medical school letters of recommendation. 

Start Early

​​Start looking for professors to write your letters of recommendation for medical school at least three to four months before your application deadline. You’ll need to approach professors early so they have time and can write a well-detailed and personal letter of recommendation

Identify Your Recommenders

The first step in the process of requesting letters of recommendation for medical school is to carefully identify individuals who can provide a comprehensive and positive assessment of your qualifications. Choose recommenders who are well-acquainted with your academic capabilities and work ethic. 

Professors who have taught you in relevant science courses or supervisors from clinical or research experiences are often suitable choices. It's crucial to select individuals who not only know you well but can also speak to your potential as a medical student. 

Keep it Formal

Maintain a formal and professional approach when requesting letters of recommendation for medical school. Initiate the request with a polite email or in-person meeting, expressing gratitude and clearly outlining the purpose of the recommendation. 

Provide essential details, such as deadlines and guidelines, and offer to share materials like your resume for their reference. 

Assist Your Recommenders

After you’ve chosen your recommenders for medical school letters, actively support them in the process. Provide detailed information about your academic achievements, extracurricular experiences, and career goals. Share a well-organized resume and specifics about the medical schools you're applying to. 

This proactive approach ensures personalized and impactful letters that align with your goals. Regular communication and gentle reminders about deadlines help your recommenders manage their time effectively.

Understanding the Process

Before requesting letters of recommendation for medical school, familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of the institutions you're applying to, including the number and preferred sources of letters. This knowledge guides your selection of recommenders and facilitates effective communication during the request.

Follow Instructions

Following instructions is crucial when requesting letters of recommendation for medical school.  Review each institution's guidelines on the number and preferred sources of letters and submission procedures. Provide recommenders with all necessary information and materials, following any specified formatting or content requirements. 

To help give you an idea of how to approach a potential recommender, here is a photo of a sample email of how to ask for a letter of recommendation. 

Sample email of how to ask for a letter of recommendation

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.

Medical School Letters of Recommendation Samples

Here are a few samples of medical school letters of recommendation to help give you an idea of what they should look like.

Example #1

Name of writer and contact information if not included in letterhead
Dear Admissions Committee,
As the head of Biology at Penn State University, I do not often take the time to write these letters of recommendation. However, when Stacey Lee petitioned me to write this letter on her behalf, I could not refuse. During the past 3 years, I have had the joy of having Stacey in my Introductory Physiology and Physiology Laboratory courses. After noticing her superior analysis skills, I also took her on as a paid assistant to edit freshman papers, a responsibility which she has delivered on in a very professional way.
Sign off”

Why this works: In this instance, the professor shares their role as the head of the biology department, outlines the duration of their interaction with the student, specifies the classes in which they instructed the student, and highlights the student's assistance in grading papers. 

Example #2

Name of writer and contact information if not included in letterhead
Dear admission committee members,
It's my pleasure to write this recommendation for Jessica Reedy for your medical school program. I first met Jessica when she took my medical microbiology class in the fall of 2019. This was one of my large lecture classes where I often had limited interactions with students on a personal level, but Jessica regularly met with me during my office hours to discuss the possibility of pursuing a career as a doctor.
Jessica is a very hardworking, attentive individual, which helped her exceed in my class. She continually asked thoughtful questions during my lectures to ensure she understood challenging concepts. When working on lab assignments, she paid careful attention to the directions so she could complete the task correctly.
Jessica also impressed me with her friendliness and willingness to help others succeed. She frequently volunteered to help tutor freshmen students struggling to comprehend their coursework. Many of my colleagues mentioned having their students improve tremendously after working with Jessica.
I wholeheartedly recommend Jessica Reedy for your medical school program. Please let me know if you would like to discuss Jessica's character further or if there is anything else I can add.
Sign off” 

Why this works: This sample mentions the recommender's relationship to the applicant while describing their traits, such as being a hardworking and attentive student. The recommender also mentions that the applicant had participated in volunteer work to help freshman students with their classwork which showcases the applicants dedication to helping others. 

AAMC Guidelines For Medical School Letter of Recommendation

Here are the AAMC guidelines for medical school letters of recommendation

  1. The recommender must provide an accurate assessment of the applicant’s suitability for medical school rather than advocate for them.
  2. The recommender must mention their relationship to the applicant, how long they’ve known them, what capacity they’ve interacted with, and if the recommender's observations of the applicant are direct or indirect. 
  3. Focus on the applicant rather than details of the lab,  course, assignment, job, or institution. 
  4. Recommenders should only include information on grades, GPA, or MCAT scores.
  5. Recommenders should directly focus on behaviors they’ve observed when describing an applicant’s suitability for medical school.  
  6. Request the applicant's consent before including any details deemed private or sensitive.
  7. Include distinctive contributions that an applicant could make to an incoming class, such as:
  • The applicant has successfully navigated challenges, detailing how these obstacles resulted in valuable learning experiences and personal growth.
  • Contributions that the applicant would bring to the diversity of a medical school encompassing various aspects like background, attributes, and experiences.
  1. Admissions committees appreciate the inclusion of comparative information, but it's crucial to offer context. This should involve details about:
  • The comparison group, such as students in a class you taught, colleagues in your department, or co-workers.
  • Your rationale behind the chosen comparison provides a clear justification for the relevance of the comparison group.

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.

FAQ: Recommendation Letters For Medical School

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

1. How Early Should I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation for Medical School?

You should ask for a letter of recommendation for medical school three to four months before the submission deadline. This gives you ample time to find a recommender, for them to write it, and for you to review it. 

2. How Many Recommendation Letters Do You Need?

Typically, medical schools ask for a minimum of three recommendation letters. The number of recommendation letters you need is dependent on what the medical school you’re applying to requires. 

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

Generally, a letter of recommendation should not be more than one year old. If you have a letter of recommendation that exceeds this timespan and cannot receive a newer one, try to ask the recommender to redate the previous letter they’ve written to solve this issue.

4. When Are Letters of Recommendation Due for Medical School?

For medical school applications, aim to have recommendation letters sent by the date of your secondary application submission, typically in July at the earliest. Medical schools often delay reading recommendation letters until they receive all application materials. 

To avoid anxiety, request that letters be submitted by the end of June, allowing for any potential delays. While recommendation letters may not impact receiving a secondary application, they play a crucial role in interview decisions. Timely submission ensures an organized and comprehensive application process.

5. How Important Are Letters of Recommendation for Medical School?

Letters of recommendation play an important role in medical school admissions, offering insights into an applicant's academic abilities, work ethic, and suitability for a medical career. While not the sole determinant for receiving a secondary application, these letters carry substantial weight in influencing interview decisions. 

Final Thoughts

Medical school letters of recommendation 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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