7 Steps to Obtaining Medical School Letters of Recommendation

To create a successful medical school application, you must obtain the required letters of recommendation from your professors and others. But what is the best way to approach an evaluator and request a much needed letter of recommendation?

As you’ll soon learn, how you ask for a letter of recommendation is important; by approaching a letter writer in a professional manner and providing her with the information she needs to write a great letter, you give yourself the best chance of having a strong letter submitted correctly and on time. To obtain your letters, take the following steps.

  1. Arrange to meet in person with the individual from whom you’re requesting a letter

    If you’ve already graduated and no longer live near your alma mater or for some other reason are located at a distance from your letter writer, contact the person to set up a time to speak with her by phone.

  2. Bring to the meeting a copy of your resume or cv and your personal statement as well as information about when and where to submit the letter.

    If you don’t have at least a good draft of your personal statement at the time you ask for the letter, offer to send it later.

  3. During the meeting, explain that you’re applying to medical school and want to know whether the person can write you a strong letter of recommendation.

    The key word here is strong. Don’t simply say “Would you be willing to write me a letter of recommendation?” By specifying that you’re looking for a strong letter, you provide an easy opening for the evaluator to decline if she doesn’t feel she can write an effective letter for you.

    When you meet with your evaluator, explain to her why you decided to ask her for a letter of recommendation.

    For example, if you had interesting and enjoyable discussions with a professor about a certain topic or did a project or paper that you found particularly meaningful (and for which you received a high grade), mention these reasons to provide a context for your request for a letter and jog her memory about possible topics for discussion.

  4. If the writer agrees to write you a strong letter, give her the items in Step 2 and ask whether she also wants you to e-mail her the information.

  5. Give the writer a specific date by which you want the letter to be submitted.

    The date should be between four and six weeks from when you ask for the letter. Given too little time, a busy professor or physician may not have an opportunity to write an optimal letter; with too much time, she may put off the task until she forgets about it.

  6. Before concluding the meeting, offer to provide any additional information that the evaluator wants and to meet with her again to discuss your candidacy for medical school.

    For example, an evaluator who is outside of academia, such as a community physician you’ve shadowed, may need guidelines about what medical schools are looking for in a letter and perhaps an outline of topics to cover.

  7. After the meeting, follow up with an e-mail thanking the writer for agreeing to write you a letter and providing her with any additional materials she may need to submit your letter.

    Specific materials vary depending on the submission method you use; they may include matching forms, links to instructions for uploading or mailing letters, or ID numbers.

    In addition, make sure you advise your recommender that the letter must be written on official letterhead and signed, as required by many medical schools.

The details of these steps vary depending on how well you know the letter writer and the direction the conversation takes, but by following this overall framework, you have a strategy to work from and adapt as needed.

Send your evaluator a thank-you note after she’s submitted your letter. Professors, physicians, and other evaluators are taking time out of their schedules to write a letter on your behalf, so acknowledging their efforts is important.

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