As you already know, letters of recommendation are a crucial part of your application. Most sections of the application are important because they allow you to tell the application committee about yourself. Letters of recommendation, on the other hand, are important because give medical schools the opportunity to hear what others have to say about you.
The most vital thing about letters of recommendation is that you ask for them early. Letter writers often receive requests from multiple students, so it is important to ask early- even as early as February of the year you are applying- to avoid application delays. A lot of focus gets placed on who you should ask for letters, and rightfully so, but if your letters are not in on time it does not matter who wrote them.
Your letters can be continuously added into the application system. Most schools require three letters, but check the requirements for each school before submitting your application. You can also assign different letters to each program, with a maximum of 10 letters you have the option to upload. At a minimum, you should give your letter writers at least three weeks to write your letter. However, the more time you give them the happier they will be when sitting down to write it – and the more time they will have to enclose a letter that will paint you in the best light possible!
Who should you ask? Most advisors would say to have the people who know you the best write your letters. It is obvious when someone has known you for sometime, and those letters are much more meaningful and provide more insight into your character. If you happen to know someone at a school you are applying, that is an advantage that is hard to ignore, but the quality is still the most important part. Still, do not ignore this advantage and try to get to know these connections in a more in-depth way so their letters are meaningful. This, will definitely give you an inside track. A famous research name is nice to have if they know you well, but the chances that whoever is reading your letters will recognize those names is pretty remote.
Another aspect of choosing your letter writer is ensuring that they will only have positive things to say about you. Most often admission committees are expecting glowing letters of recommendation, but if they see a letter where the writer has a negative comment about you, that is usually grounds for immediate rejection. So it is important to ask people in which you have a good relationship with, and are confident that they will only have encouraging and favorable things to write about you.
We usually recommend you ask for at least 4-5 LOR, so that if one person doesn’t come through you still have enough for medical schools. The typical breakdown is 2 letters from science professors, 1 letter from a non-science professor, and 1-2 other letters that can come from principle investigators, doctors you have shadowed or community members. There can be some variation on this based on a case-by-case basis.
It is important to get your letters of recommendation in early, however, you can still submit your application without the letters and upload them later. However, it is important to have all the required letters submitted when schools are reviewing your application.
So what are the options for collecting letters of recommendation? There are multiple ways to collect letters of recommendation, and each method has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
If you have a pre-health committee at your undergraduate or graduate university, it is best to use this option for your letters. Most medical schools will expect you to use the committee. The committee will likely interview you and collect several letters from different professors and them submit them in a packet on your behalf. This is a helpful because the university will provide an ‘endorsement’ of your credentials to medical school, and provide highlights of your education. However, one drawback of using the committee is that it can be slow, so it is very important to contact them early to see what their requirements are, and their timeline of submission.
If you have a ‘professional office’ without a pre-health committee, you can consider using them to collect and submit your letters of recommendation. However, we usually discourage this option because it can be slow and inefficient.
You can also choose to collect letters of recommendation yourself from the writers. However, these letters must be submitted directly to AMCAS or you must use a third-party letter service. If letters are submitted to AMCAS, you can have your writers submit them as early as May of your application year. The letters will be stored there for one year. This service is free, however, you can’t send the letters to osteopathic schools.
Another option to allow more discretion on where your letters will be sent is to use a third party letter service, such as Interfolio. Interfolio provides clear instructions to letter writers, and once they submit the letters, they are uploaded to your account and you can the letters sent both to AMCAS and osteopathic schools. The letters can be stored for longer than a year, however, there is a cost to this service.
Whichever way you choose to submit your letters, ensure that you do it early and make it as easy as possible for the letter writers!
Now there’s one more special scenario that can come up. Sometimes professors or other letter writers will ask you to write a draft of your letter of recommendation for them, and they will modify it and submit it. This is fine to do but again, try to provide them the draft as early as possible.
It is often difficult for applicants to write a letter of recommendation about themselves, so contact us at MedSchoolCoach to help you through this.
Letters of recommendation are an important aspect of your application to medical school. Make sure you choose wisely about the person writing your letter and get them submitted early to avoid any delays in your application!