Your letters of recommendation for your medical school application are a key element of your Letters of recommendationapplication packet. Don’t overlook them and don’t minimize the importance of getting some dyn-o-mite letters!

Most medical schools require a minimum of three letters of recommendation. Two of those should be written by science faculty who are well acquainted with you and your abilities. The third can come from a non-science faculty member. Once in awhile, you’ll find an odd add-on, perhaps a requirement for a fourth letter of recommendation. I have a friend who was denied acceptance to a favored med school because he sent only three letters, and the school required a fourth. There was no flexibility in their policy!

Medical schools all have their own requirements, so you may want to visit the website of each school you are targeting to get specifics. While many schools ask for a personal recommendation along with two faculty recommendations, you may be able to submit personal letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well.

The three-dimensional YOU

Remember, up to this point the admissions committee has only numbers (your MCAT score) and letters (your grades) to go by. The letters of recommendation, in combination with a well-written personal essay, will start to transform a one-dimensional character into a living, breathing human being, with immense potential. With a small percentage of all applicants to medical school accepted each year, these letters of recommendation can provide a strong boost to your candidacy.

Here are a few tips to help you get letters that truly put you in the best light:

  1. Spend some time during your pre-med years building relationships with your professors. Stop by to ask questions. Offer to mentor or tutor younger students. Apply as a research or teacher’s assistant so you can work more closely with the professors you like most.
  2. Give your letter writers plenty of time to complete the task. If you ask them to write their letter over a weekend, you’ll either get a lousy result, or a flat “no.”
  3. When you ask for the letters, provide a one-page overview of your experience, interests, accomplishments, strengths and highlights during your pre-med years and of your life in general. This will help remind the professor(s) of facts they may know, but have forgotten.
  4. Provide specific examples of projects and accomplishments. Rather than saying, “Mary likes medical research and has spent two years actively involved in it,” say, “Mary has spent two years in a research project that identified an aggregate of social and societal factors and their effect on healthcare in developing countries.”
  5. Provide the letter writer with a copy of the AMCAS Letter Request form, which includes your AAMC ID and AMCAS Letter ID. This form should be sent with the letter so it is easily matched with your application.
  6. Advise the letter writer not to put the name of a school on the letter, so the letter can be sent to all schools under consideration.
  7. The letter can be either mailed by USPS, through the Interfolio or Virtual Evals services many universities use, or in the case of hundreds of medical schools, through the AMCAS Letter Writer Application service.
  8. Do not ask the referrer to allow you to see your letter. Most colleges consider that a serious breach of protocol. Medical school letters of recommendation are considered confidential, and students are considered to have waived their right of review upon submitting the request to a referrer.

Here are a few other helpful posts as you prepare your application packet:

—How do I write a personal essay for my medical school application?

—What’s the cost of the med school application process?

—How important is my science GPA vs my cumulative GPA to medical schools?