Asking for Recommendation Letters: Before, During, and After

January 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/13/22

Asking for recommendation letters for medical school doesn’t have to be intimidating. Read on to learn what to do before, during, and after asking for recommendations!

Imagine with the following text: "Asking for Recommendation Letters: Before, During, and After"

Medical school applications require recommendation letters, also known as letters of evaluation. Our guide to asking for rec letters will help you successfully navigate how to obtain strong letters of recommendation for your medical 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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Purpose of Letters of Recommendation

Medical school application letters of recommendation are used to evaluate applicants in several ways so that admissions officers can learn 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 potential as a leader. Aim to ask recommenders who know you well and can write about your best attributes. 

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Mediocre letters of recommendation from writers who don’t know you well are a surefire way of undermining your medical school application. Let’s review some key insights on securing the best recommendation letters possible. 

We’ll discuss steps to take and helpful tips to consider before, during, and after you ask your references for recommendations. 

Asking for Recommendation Letters: Before You Ask

Imagine outlining the steps to take before asking for a letter of recommendation.

Before asking for a letter of recommendation, it’s important to know 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 with your letter writers because they outline the core competencies medical schools seek in students. 

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

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 medical schools. 

You’ll need to check with medical schools to determine if they participate in the AMCAS Letter Service. Be sure to do this preliminary research yourself; don’t ask your references to do it. 

Know the Different Ways Letters of Evaluation Can Be Submitted

Some medical schools participate in the AMCAS Letter Service. There are different ways to submit your letters of evaluation to AMCAS electronically or by mail. Always check with schools and AMCAS and follow all 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 medical schools require three letters of evaluation, but some schools ask for four or five letters. So, check the requirements at each school you are applying to. There are three types of recommendation letters: 

  1. Committee Letters: Committee letters are common in the U.S. Committee letters are 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 are typically written by individuals such as faculty members, physicians, employers, and research, volunteering, or extracurricular supervisors. 

Asking for Recommendation Letters: How to Ask & Sample Email

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

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How to Ask a Doctor for a Recommendation Letter

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

Start Early 

When asking for recommendation letters, it’s essential to 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 as a candidate. It ensures that your writers 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 is important to: 

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

You can also offer your writer instructions and guidance to follow 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, as they probably have a valid reason for saying no. For example, perhaps they have too many obligations or don’t know you well enough to write a good letter for you. 

Provide Your Recommenders with Your Application Materials 

Once your recommenders are happy to write you a recommendation, 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 in a given year. 

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

Asking for recommendations can be difficult, so it’s helpful to look at a sample request for a letter of recommendation to understand how others contacted potential writers. This sample email, provided by The University of Maine Institute of Medicine, illustrates how to ask for letters professionally and appropriately:

Sample email of how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Source: University of Maine Institute of Medicine 

Asking for Recommendation Letters: After You Ask

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

Image outlining the steps to take after you ask for a recommendation letter.

Allow sufficient time to write your recommendation letters. 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 that you maintain a good working relationship with them for future endeavors. 

Tips for when you are asking for a recommendation letter

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. When asking for a letter of recommendation for medical school, 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
  • Medical school’s 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 they’re available

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

3. 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. 

4. 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 with complete honesty. 

You should trust that your writers have your best interests in mind and write robust recommendations advocating for your strengths. In AMCAS, you should waive your right to review your recommendation letters.

5. How Many Letters of Evaluation Do I Need for Medical School Applications?

Every medical school has unique requirements for how many recommendation letters to submit. Many medical 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.  

6. Why Are Medical School Letters of Evaluation Important?

Admissions officers have the difficult task of going through thousands of 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. 

7. 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.

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 to use, 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 for success in receiving the best medical school letter of recommendation.

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