The Rundown on Letters of Recommendations

The Importance of Letters of Recommendations


Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of your medical school application. Thus, it is important to get letter writers that are able to write a personalized and strong letter of recommendation on your behalf.


When compiling a list of potential letter writers, take into consideration how well this individual knows you well enough that they are able to do this. For example, when trying to get a letter of recommendation from a professor, try attending office hours (live or virtual), and being present and active in class, along with doing well in the course. This is one way to create a relationship between yourself and your professor and help ensure they can write you a strong letter.


General Overview


Each medical school has its own requirements regarding letters of recommendations (including minimum and maximums, as well as whom they want letters from). Thus, check MSAR and medical school admissions websites to make sure you meet their requirements. Usually, though, most medical schools ask for 3 LOR's


There are 3 different types of LOR's.


  1. Individual letters

  2. Are written by individual referees, such as professors, employers, PI's, physicians, etc.

  3. Letter packets

  4. Letters written by your recommenders are assembled and sent out by your school's career center; no letter from the pre-med advisor or committee

  5. Committee Letters

  6. Written by the pre-med advising committee which represents your school's evaluation of you as a candidate

When to Ask for Letters of Recommendations


Usually, you want to ask for letters of recommendation within 3 months prior to when they need to be submitted, and at the latest, 1 month prior.


Sometimes, it is beneficial to ask for letters a lot earlier. Ex. If you attend a large public university where courses usually contain 100-200 students, it is easy for professors to forget you. Thus, if you build a report with your professor by attending office hours and doing well in the course, it might be beneficial to ask for the letter shortly after completing the course. This can help ensure that your accomplishments, strengths, and personal attributes are fresh in their mind when writing your letter.


If you choose to do this, you can ask for these letters to be stored at your school's career center, advisor, or through services such as Interfolio until you need them submitted to your medical school applications


How to Ask for Letters of Recommendations


Email them to inquire if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. This allows you to engage their interest without potentially "ambushing" them with the request in person. In this email, you should express why you want them to write a letter on your behalf. Ex. "I really enjoyed your course. I was not prepared to enjoy Physics as much as I did and I can attribute both my interest and success to your style of teaching and help during office hours. Thus, I would like to inquire if you would be willing to write me a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf for my medical school application."


You should also suggest a plan to discuss this further in person. Again, if you just took the class recently or some time has passed since then, meeting in person allows them to put a face to the name.