We all know that GPA and MCAT score are the two biggest factors that influence your med school acceptance chances. Admissions committees also highly value the quality of your letters of recommendation when they are looking over applications. Letters of rec provide the reader a chance to gauge your interpersonal skills, work ethic, critical thinking abilities, and much more. Your letter writers will explain why they think you will be a good physician. The better the letter, the higher your chances of getting in. So pick your writers wisely!
Who Should I Get Letters of Recommendation From?
Great question! Each medical school varies on the exact requirements when it comes to letters of rec, but in general they ask for:
-2 letters from science faculty and 1 letter from non-science faculty OR a pre-med committee letter if your school offers such a service.
-Some schools may also ask for 1 letter from a physician or someone you have had a working relationship with.
When Should I Start Gathering Letters of Recommendation for Medical School?
Check out Burton’s post about the Medical School Application Process. He mentions that the earliest you can submit your med school application is June. And trust us: The earlier, the better. Since you want to make sure everything is absolutely ready to go by June, you can start asking your potential letter writers as early as January if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation. Asking in-person is ideal, as it gives you and your letter writer a chance to review your application, highlight your strengths & areas of improvement, and be on the same page.
After they say yes, don’t hesitate to follow up with your letter writers via email. This can be once a month at first but once the calendar rolls around to March and April, more frequent reminders are completely appropriate. Your letter writers are busy people and they’ll appreciate the reminder!
Getting Strong Letters of Recommendation for Medical School
There’s no big, well-kept secret about what leads to strong letters of rec. The more time you spend with a letter writer, the more likely they are to write a higher quality letter for you. Make sure you establish deep, meaningful relationships with the professors, lab managers, volunteer coordinators, physicians, etc. that you intend to ask for a letter.
For science & non-science faculty:
Go to office hours and stand out! You can do so by reviewing recent lecture notes, coming up with insightful questions related to the material, and asking these questions during office hours. Your professors will notice the amount of effort you’re putting into their class. Plan to go every week of the quarter or semester and once your final grade comes out, ask them if they would be willing to write a letter for you. Don’t wait until you’re about to apply to med school before you do this. They’ll write more if you’re fresh in their mind!
Just because you get an A in a professors class doesn’t mean they’ll write you a strong letter of rec. In fact, it will probably be very generic. On top of mentioning your strong academic abilities, your letter writers should also mention your qualities as an individual, which they can only obtain if they interact with you on a regular basis. Getting an A and never seeing the professor will not lead to a very good letter.
For physicians and work-related letters:
Most likely, your faculty letter writers will only know you through the one or two classes you take with them. This means that when you ask someone you have worked with for a letter of rec, it’s an opportunity to get a letter from someone who has known you for a longer period of time. Having at least one year of a consistent, strong working relationship will result in a very strong letter of rec. And, work-related letters are more likely to highlight how you work with others, how you manage responsibilities, etc- all qualities that doctors absolutely must have in order to be successful!
Start early. Get to know your letter writers. And when you get into medical school: let them know, thank them, and buy them a cake! Mmmmm…cake 🙂