Medical School Letter of Recommendation – 2023 Guide

May 3, 2023

medical school letter of recommendation

When you hear the term “letter of recommendation,” your mind may turn to the nerve-wracking experience of asking your favorite high school teacher to write you a recommendation for your college application. The process for requesting a medical school letter of recommendation truly isn’t much different. In fact, the goals are the same. As a high school student, you probably wanted to attend a college with a great pre-med program or was a top feeder into medical school. And now, you’re aiming to attend the medical school of your dreams. Either way, you want the best education possible.

So where does the letter of recommendation fall in the medical school application timeline? How many letters of recommendation for medical school will you need? Amid studying for the MCAT, writing your personal statement, and preparing for interviews, you’ll need to request several letters and provide the writers with the necessary materials to produce the stellar letter you’re hoping for. We’ve answered the most common questions about medical school letters of recommendation, from content requirements to the process of asking for one.

What Does a Medical School Letter of Recommendation Look Like?

The purpose of a medical school recommendation letter is to provide multiple points of view on your natural strengths, positive attributes, and future goals. They build on what you present in your personal statement from the unique perspective of a respected academic professor, close mentor, or medical professional. It paints a picture of your growth as a student, researcher, future doctor, and overall person.

Additionally, it should address any challenges you’ve had to overcome in your education and/or professional development journey. The letter may touch upon the qualities that helped you persevere through those obstacles. Examples include: adaptability, critical thinking, teamwork, scientific inquiry, etc. The letter writer should also describe what their relationship is with you and how that has developed over time.

With so many topics to cover, you may be worried about how long the medical school letter of recommendation must be. Although the length may depend on individual school requirements, the letter is generally one to three pages; however, the quality of what’s written is much more significant than how much is written.

Is a Letter of Recommendation Different Than a Committee Letter?

Many schools offer the opportunity to submit a committee letter instead of or in addition to several individual letters you solicit from different people. This letter is put together and signed by a “pre-health committee,” specifically recommending your admission to medical school. It’s comparable to a letter of recommendation from a high school counselor that you’d send in with your college application. You may need to go through a more intensive process for this type of letter, such as attending interviews or meeting specific course/GPA requirements.

How Do You Ask for a Medical School Letter of Recommendation? 

First, you need to determine how many letters of recommendation for medical school you’ll need. Typically, programs require between two and five letters, but it’s important for you to keep track of each school you’re applying to. A good rule of thumb is that most recommendations should be from academia. For example, if a school requires five letters, three of them should be from undergraduate professors (two STEM and one non-STEM). The other two letters can be written by those who oversee your extracurricular activities, such as a research lab mentorship or clinical experience.

Next, you need to prepare a set of relevant materials to help those you’ve asked to write a medical school letter of recommendation. Don’t expect them to know the submission process or letter requirements for each school. They may also not know your full academic background, which can help them produce a well-rounded, holistic letter.

Here are the suggested materials to provide:

  • Clear submission instructions and deadlines
  • Most up-to-date resume with academic and professional experiences
  • Full academic transcript
  • A draft (or at least an outline) of your personal statement
  • MCAT score if you’ve taken it by the time you ask for a letter

Now, it’s time to ask! If you’re feeling stressed about requesting a letter of recommendation, just remember that how you ask makes all the difference. It’s common for professors to receive recommendation requests. Therefore, there is no need to worry if you haven’t spoken to them in a couple of semesters. Since they receive many requests (on top of their professor duties), it might get overwhelming if you ask for a letter two weeks before the deadline. You should budget at least two to three months between requesting and receiving a recommendation in your medical school application timeline, especially if someone declines to write you one.

Example Requirements for Medical School Letters of Recommendation

Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine

  • Your application must contain at least three letters, but no more than six in total.
  • Letters should be written by people who can “honestly and accurately attest to your performance, character, personal qualities, and aptitudes via direct interaction and observation.”
  • Letters are only accepted through AMCAS letter service to count toward requirements.
  • Faculty letters must have signatures and are preferably on official letterhead.
  • Regardless of academic background, one letter is recommended to come from a science class instructor.
  • A letter from a supervisor is most helpful when they can discuss your qualifications for medicine and is accompanied by letters from faculty.

Duke University School of Medicine

  • Your application must contain at least four letters, with a maximum of six in total. If you choose to submit more than four, admissions may not read them with so many applicants.
  • Two letters must be from science faculty that have instructed you in a lab or classroom.
  • If you can’t find two science professors to write you letters, you can ask people with “close contact in a teaching environment, or a supervisory position where scientific research supervision is documented.”
  • In lieu of four separate recommendation letters, you can submit a committee letter.

Tufts School of Medicine

  • There is no maximum number of letters, but it’s recommended you submit between three and five letters.
  • Although there is no requirement for who writes your letters, it’s preferred that your letters come from people who can assess and describe your medical school qualifications fairly. Essentially, avoid asking your family and friends to write your letters. Instead, ask college professors, employers, volunteer activity supervisors, etc.

Vanderbilt School of Medicine

  • Between three and five letters are accepted through the AMCAS letter service.
  • Committee, pre-advisor, and individual letters are all acceptable to fulfill the letter of recommendation requirement, as long as they contain a minimum of three letters.
  • It’s that you ask people who can address the strengths you possess that would qualify you for admission into medical school.

Harvard Medical School

  • There is a minimum of three letters of recommendation – two from science professors and one from a non-science professor.
  • Although there is a maximum of six letters, you may send in additional letters if they’re from research supervisors.
  • Committee letters are counted as one letter toward the six-letter maximum.

What Are Common Mistakes to Avoid When Requesting a Medical Letter of Recommendation?

When you ask someone for a favor as important as writing a medical school letter of recommendation, it can be easy to make mistakes. One of the top mistakes you should avoid is asking the wrong person to write your letter. Don’t ask a professor who doesn’t remember you as a student or whose class you didn’t ace. Also, you shouldn’t beg someone to write you a letter –they’ll probably write you a subpar letter, anyway. Make sure you get a variety of letters. Avoid asking people who teach the same subject or have the same job (e.g., three biology professors).

Another mistake is asking for a letter of recommendation at the wrong time. Specifically, you shouldn’t request a letter too long after working with someone. This is particularly true if you haven’t kept in touch with them. If you took a class with a professor in freshman year, you shouldn’t ask them for a letter two years later out of the blue just before the submission deadline. In reality, you should be thinking about letters of recommendation as early as possible.

Your Letters of Recommendation Are Currently Being Written – What Now?

Just hang tight! Avoid bombarding the people you asked with questions about their progress. If you trusted them enough to write your medical school letter of recommendation, you can trust them to finish it and submit it successfully by the deadline. It’s okay to check in every once in a while, especially if the deadline is close.  However, you shouldn’t bother them every week for a consistent update.

And while you wait, you can continue working on other parts of the medical school application, like your personal statement, secondary essays, or interview preparation. It’s a multi-step process that involves balancing many moving parts. Since the letters of recommendation are out of your hands for now, focus on your own responsibilities and work toward completing every application on your medical school list as well as you can.