Tackling the Medical School Letter of Recommendation
As you near the end of the school year, you are probably focusing on final exams and your plans for summer break. But as a pre-med student, there are a few more things you should think about like volunteer opportunities, research positions, internships, MCAT prep courses, MCAT practice tests, and...medical school letters of recommendation! No matter how far you may be from applying to medical school, it is really never too early to start thinking about and requesting letters of recommendation.
You should know that most medical schools have a certain number of letters of recommendation that they require; yet, they usually accept more than that required number. For example, School A may require two letters of recommendation from science professors and one letter of recommendation from a non-science professor. However, if you read through School A’s website or even call their admissions office, you may discover that School A accepts up to seven letters from each applicant. This means that you can send four additional letters of your choosing!
What is the purpose of a medical school letter of recommendation?
Prior to requesting your letters of recommendation, it helps to understand exactly how medical schools use these letters. You can think of a medical school letter of recommendation as just that--someone recommending you for acceptance into medical school. Aside from your grades and MCAT score, medical school admissions personnel are particularly interested in your strengths and weaknesses, the type of person you are, how you deal with adversity, how you work with others, and how you adapt to changing situations. All this information gives medical schools an idea of whether or not their program is a good fit for you; and most importantly, how successful you will be as a medical student and future physician.
Who should I ask for a medical school letter of recommendation?
With all this in mind, the next thing you should do is ask yourself who (excluding your family and friends) knows you the best or can speak the best on your behalf. It would be a good idea to even make a list of these people and request more letters of recommendation than what you actually need in case one or more of your selections does not have time to write a letter for you. Ideal selections for potential letter writers can include professors, coaches, research advisers, academic counselors, employers, or supervisors from your volunteer or internship experiences. As a general rule, the longer you have known or worked with an individual the better a candidate she should be for writing you a letter of recommendation.
How do I request a medical school letter of recommendation?
Although it may sound simple, the best way to request a medical school letter of recommendation is to just ask! Of course a personal touch always helps, so pay your potential letter writer a visit in her office or give her a call to ask her directly. Your letter writer will most likely ask you what you would like to be included in the letter and how soon you need the letter completed. So, have that information in mind when you go to make your request. You should also refer your letter writer to the AMCAS Letter Service for Advisors and Other Letter Authors where she can find important guidelines for writing and submitting the letter of recommendation on your behalf.
Note that your college or university may be like some schools in which it is required that all your medical school letters of recommendation be sent as a letter packet, or instead the health professions office may provide a committee letter for you. Consult your pre-medical adviser or health professions counselor to find out if either of these situations apply. Although requesting letters of recommendation can be an involved process, you can actually view it as an opportunity to list and celebrate your achievements. After all, the greatest praise you can receive is the praise that comes from others!
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