How to obtain strong letters of recommendation for medical school

letters of recommendation medical school admissions

Like it or not, letters of recommendation (LORs) play a key role in applying to medical school. In a the increasingly competitive field of medical school applications, you want to “load the bases” and make every component of your application shine. Letters of recommendation can seem like the part over which you have the least control: after all, someone else is writing them!

The truth: you do have the ability to influence the makeup and quality of your LORs

LORS can become a part of your application that you feel truly confident in, with the right approach. This post focuses on tips for how to ask for and receive strong letters of recommendation for medical school. 

Whom to ask

It is very important to identify individuals who are clearly invested in you. Ask yourself: who was the professor who took the time to not only answer your questions about the course material, but also get to know you? Who was the research or work mentor who took the time to develop your skills? Someone who knows you and is invested in you now will also be more invested in writing a personalized, strong LOR that will help you reach your future goals. 

Remember that your LORs reflect and contribute to the overall narrative of your application. If you want to present yourself as a research-oriented candidate, make sure to not only include your research mentor as a letter writer, but also to discuss your interests and accomplishments in research with your other letter writers. Similarly, if it was a project outside of medicine that you loved and poured your heart into, your supervisor for that project may be a great person to write you a LOR. 

How to ask

Both email and in-person are completely acceptable ways to ask for a LOR. If you are reaching out via email, that first message can be short, detailing only that you are applying for medical school, when you anticipate needing the LOR by, and offering to set up a  phone / video call or an in-person meeting. Many letter writers will ask for you to bring/send your resume and a draft of your personal statement. Even if your letter writer is someone you see regularly, meeting in person specifically to discuss your LOR and why you are choosing medical school will provide material and insight from which they can draw upon.  

Do’s

  • Meet with your letter writer in person or one-on-one virtually, if at all possible.
  • Be prepared with your personal statement and resume.
  • Be prepared to discuss why you are choosing medical school, and your future interests (such as specialty, patient population, and/or research). 
  • Have clear information for your letter writer regarding the due date of the LOR and submission process (such as via AMCAS). 
  • Provide a sufficient amount of time (weeks to months) prior to LOR due dates. 

Don’ts

  • Choose a letter writer based only on “how famous they are.”
  • Fail to follow up, as letter writers are likely busy and may have many LORs they have been asked to write. 
  • Ask for a letter writer whom you are not confident will write you a strong LOR. 

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