Selecting Individuals to Write Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are an important component of the application process for individuals applying to health profession schools.  Applicants who qualify may request that the Preprofessional Advising Office submit a packet of letters of recommendation to certain central application services of health profession schools.  The Letter Packet may include up to five letters of recommendation.  Although the packet may only include up to five letters of recommendation, there is no limit to the amount of letters you may have submitted to the Preprofessional Advising Office on your behalf.

It is important to request letters of recommendation from individuals who know you well, since a vague and noncommittal letter is of marginal value.  Admissions committees are interested in evaluators who are knowledgeable and experienced in assessing your academic abilities, character, interpersonal skills, and professional potential.  The most useful letters are those related to your academic work, experience in clinical settings, community service, research activities, leadership roles, and employment.  Letters of recommendation from faculty, research mentors, volunteer supervisors, and employers play an important role in your application.  Letters from faculty are usually afforded more weight than letters from teaching fellows or discussion leaders.

The most effective letters of recommendation are those that stress the context in which the writer knows you, the duration of his or her acquaintance with you, and your performance level as compared to other students in similar settings.  Your communication skills, interpersonal skills, cultural competence, teamwork, initiative, integrity, resilience, and capacity for improvement are among the areas that your recommenders may discuss.  Cited examples of these qualities make for effective letters of recommendation.

Regardless of the health profession to which you are applying, excellent guidelines that you may wish to provide to your recommenders are available on the Association of American Medical College’s website at: https://www.aamc.org/download/349990/data/lettersguidelinesbrochure.pdf.

All letters of recommendation submitted to the Preprofessional Advising Office must be accompanied by the Letter of Recommendation Waiver Form.

Important points for all applicants:

  • It is your responsibility to know individual school’s requirements, as requirements for letters of recommendation vary from school to school.
  • It is your responsibility to know how many submissions the central application service permits for each applicant.
  • Many schools require two letters of recommendation from faculty members in the sciences.
  • Schools may require a letter from non-science faculty members. For allopathic medical school applicants, this may be an example of a letter that becomes part of your customization process (see below).
  • Schools may require a letter of recommendation from a health professional in the field (e.g. a physician, osteopathic physician, dentist, veterinarian).
  • For individuals who have enrolled in a graduate program, many schools require a letter from the student’s advisor.
  • If your prehealth file contains an old letter of recommendation from someone with whom you have continued to work or with whom you have taken additional courses, we strongly suggest that you request a new letter from that individual.
  • If you have changed the type of program to which you are applying (e.g. from MMEDIC to traditional pathway) or your career goals (e.g. from medicine to dentistry), your old letters of recommendation may no longer be useful. Meet with a prehealth advisor to discuss this.
  • Letters of recommendation from high school teachers, administrators, or guidance counselors are generally not helpful unless you have completed additional projects with them as a college student.
  • Personal letters from clergy, family physicians/dentists, public office holders, peers, or friends of the family are generally not helpful.

Important points for allopathic and osteopathic medical school applicants:

  • Individual letters that must be submitted to meet a particular allopathic medical school’s requirements should be sent separately by recommenders directly to the central application service. This customization of letters will be necessary for schools that have requirements that differ from the letters included in your Letter Packet.
  • Many osteopathic medical schools require a letter of recommendation from a physician, and some require a letter of recommendation from an osteopathic physician.
  • Osteopathic applicants cannot customize their submission of letters to particular schools, since letters submitted to AACOMAS are sent to all AACOMAS schools to which an applicant applies.

Important points for dental school applicants:

  • Some dental schools require a letter of recommendation from a dentist.
  • AADSAS limits applicants to only one letter of recommendation in addition to a Letter Packet.
  • Dental applicants cannot customize their submission of letters to particular schools, since letters submitted to AADSAS are sent to all AADSAS schools to which an applicant applies.

Important points for optometry applicants:

  • Although applicants to optometry schools may submit letters of recommendation to the Preprofessional Advising Office, we will not be able to forward them to OPTOMCAS. The OPTOMCAS application requires a separate form, including a ratings of attributes portion, from each recommender.  The Preprofessional Advising Office does not submit such forms on behalf of recommenders.

Important points for physician assistant applicants:

  • Although applicants to physician assistant schools may submit letters of recommendation to the Preprofessional Advising Office, we will not be able to forward them to CASPA. The CASPA application requires a separate form, including a ratings portion, from each recommender.  The Preprofessional Advising Office does not submit such forms on behalf of recommenders.

Important points for podiatry applicants:

  • Although applicants to podiatry schools may submit letters of recommendation to the Preprofessional Advising Office, we will not be able to forward them to AACPMAS. The AACPMAS application does not allow other parties to submit letters on behalf of an evaluator.

Important points for veterinary applicants:

  • Some veterinary schools require a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian.
  • Although applicants to veterinary schools may submit letters of recommendation to the Preprofessional Advising Office, we will not be able to forward them to VMCAS. The VMCAS application requires a separate form, including a ratings portion, from each recommender.  The Preprofessional Advising Office does not submit such forms on behalf of recommenders.
  • Veterinary applicants cannot customize their submission of letters to particular schools, since letters submitted to VMCAS are sent to all VMCAS schools to which an applicant applies.