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How Do Letters of Recommendation Affect Your Medical School Application?

GPA and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores allow admissions committees to assess your academic potential; work, research, clinical, and extracurricular activities show your interests and the extent to which you’ve investigated medicine. However, schools also want to know about your motivation for pursuing medicine, your interpersonal skills, your personal qualities, and your character.

The personal statement provides insight into how you see yourself and why you’re pursuing a medical degree, but schools also are interested in how you’re viewed by your professors, physicians, and other evaluators. What have these individuals observed about you as a student, volunteer, or employee? How do you interact with others? What are your communication skills and personality like? The perspectives these people can offer are valuable to admissions committees because they offer a glimpse into how you’ll function as a medical student, physician, and colleague.

That’s where letters of recommendation (also known as letters of evaluation) come in. The interview gives schools only a 30- to 45-minute snapshot of your personality and interpersonal skills. They have to rely on letters of recommendation to determine how you perform over the long term.

As with the personal statement, the quality of your letters of recommendation can help convince the committee to offer you an interview — or not. When it comes down to selecting among applicants with similar academic credentials, nonnumerical components of the application, such as letters of recommendation, can be the deciding factor. Qualitative factors can even outweigh quantitative ones; as a result, an applicant with a slightly weaker academic record whose activities and letters demonstrate a strong commitment to and suitability for medicine may get the nod over an applicant with a higher GPA and test scores but lackluster activities and mediocre letters.

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