Letters of recommendation are a medical school admissions requirement that you should ideally complete months before you apply. Not just any generic letter of recommendation will make your application stand out, so read the 10 FAQs to learn how to get great letters of recommendation that will be a major asset for your application.
“What is a letter of recommendation for medical school?”
A letter of recommendation is an assessment of your abilities, character and performance by someone that has appropriate standing to make the assessment. (Usually someone who knows you well.) Letters of recommendation are frequently requested by graduate school admissions programs.
“Why are letters of recommendation important?”
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1. They are a medical school admissions requirement!
You have to do them, so it’s crucial that you get it right the first time. A great letter of recommendation can make your application shine, and a lousy letter can harm your acceptance chances.
2. Grades, GPA, and MCAT scores don’t reveal enough about who you are as a person or how you might contribute to a program. That’s what letters of recommendation are for.
Schools don’t just want good test takers, they want ambitious individuals who will contribute to the program for years and years. A strong letter of recommendation will show how you will make a lasting impression in the program.
Since you are only one of several thousand applicants, the odds are very high that your grades, GPA, and MCAT scores are very similar to scores of other applicants. A very complimentary and descriptive letter of recommendation can make you stand above other applicants by providing an admissions official with proof that you are a great match for their program.
“Whats the difference between an effective letter and an ineffective letter?”
An effective letter of recommendation has specificity and detail
An outstanding letter of recommendation for med school will have rich detail about your character supported by an anecdote or story. A good letter convinces the reader that the writer of the letter actually knew you and frequently interacted with you. It will detail your shining moments, describe how you grew, and show how your ambition played a large role in your exemplary performance.
An effective letter of recommendation is the result of building a strong relationship with your recommender.
An ineffective letter of recommendation is generic and without detail
An ineffective letter of recommendation has nothing to indicate that the person actually spent any meaningful time with you. This type of letter will offer no true insight into your character because it is written in such a general way that it could apply to anyone.
You will get ineffective letter of recommendation when you don’t take the time to get to know your recommender and communicate your needs to them.
A harmful letter of recommendation is negative and unflattering
This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, your application is in trouble: You ask a professor or employer to write you a letter even though they clearly don’t like you.
You might receive a harmful letter of recommendation if you are frequently late, perceived as lazy, or if you were suspected of cheating or being involved in an unethical situation.
“When should I begin asking for letters of recommendation?”
Begin creating relationships with professors and employers at least one year before you apply. If you’re short on time, do not leave any less than one month for your writer to get your letter done. Your letter is not always the top priority for a busy person, so don’t be surprised if your writer doesn’t have time to crank out your letter in only a few days, or a week.
“Who do I ask for a letter of recommendation? Who is the right person to ask”
Ask for a letter from a person who likes you and knows you well enough to write a specific and enthusiastic letter. If you don’t know any of your professors or employers very well, you can schedule a few brief meetings to get to know them and request a letter of recommendation.
If you’re honest about your intentions and eager to let the professor get to know you, they will usually be happy to write you a strong letter.
Here is more in-depth information on who to ask, and how:
- Asking for Letters of Recommendation for Medical School Admissions
- Letters of Recommendation for Medical School: Who to Ask?
- Who should you ask for letters of recommendation?
“How do I ask for a letter of recommendation?”
Ideally, you should request a letter of recommendation either in person. Cordially and professionally ask to meet with your potential writer. Don’t hide your intentions — tell your potential recommender upfront that you would like to talk about earning a letter of recommendation.
This article lays out an easy-to-follow strategy on acquiring letters of recommendation: Want a Great Letter of Recommendation for Medical School Application? Here’s How.
“Once my letter is written, how do I get it sent to the right place?”
There are several ways to make sure your letters of recommendation get to the right place at the right time:
Easy way to manage your letters: Interfolio.com. It’s an online service that makes it very easy for your letter writer to send your letter into Interfolio to be managed by their service. It’s very easy and affordable.
More on how to use Interfolio here: How to use Interfolio to manage your letters of recommendation for medical school
Another easy way to manage your letters: Let your campus advisor do it for you. If you’re still enrolled in college or if you graduated recently, your on-campus advisor may provide a letter of recommendation service.
“How do I write my own letter of recommendation?”
Very frequently, especially in a busy corporate environment, your letter writer might ask you to write a rough draft of the letter yourself. This is a golden opportunity to write yourself the perfect letter of recommendation, but only if you know how to write a good letter.
Learn how to write your own letter here: Writing your own Letter of Recommendation?
“What does a good letter of recommendation look like? Can I see a sample?”
Below is a sample letter of recommendation that I’ve taken from my book “Great Letters of Recommendation.” It was written for a premed entering medical school. Click to enlarge.
“Can you refer me to any additional resources?”
I highly recommend that you take a look at my book “Great Letters of Recommendation.” It contains a ton of sample letters and a complete strategy guide on earning letters of recommendation that includes conversation scripts and email templates.