How do I begin the process of starting to ask for letters of recommendation?
Letters of recommendations can be a source of significant stress for medical school applicants, because they are one factor that is not completely within the applicants control for submission. Who do you ask for letters of recommendation? Here we will go into detail on who to ask, how to ask, and when to ask for the best possible odds of success in the application process.
When should you ask for medical school letters of recommendation?
Ask as early as possible, and let your letter writer clearly know when applications need to be submitted by so that they can be in at or before then. This is of vital importance, because busy professors or physicians will have many other responsibilities on their plate. Despite asking early, at times it is possible that it may still take a recommendation letter writer significant time to submit their letter.
While you do not want to be overbearing in your communications, it is perfectly acceptable to send gentle reminders (and ones that are extremely polite), in order to lightly remind your letter writer of when you application is due and that you would greatly appreciate their help with submitting their letter. According to the AAMC, both the TMDSAS and AMCAS applications open up beginning of May for applicants to fill out their applications, and can be submitted by beginning of June. This means that you should be asking your chosen mentors for recommendation letters some time in March as an ideal time, and latest by April.
Who should you ask?
There are many excellent options here, but the bottom line is that it should be someone that you know, and that knows you and your work well. Examples of this include the following, but are not limited to this list:
- A research mentor that you have worked closely with on a project who can speak to your creativity, work ethic, and presentation skills
- A physician that you have scribed for and can speak to your abilities and detail-oriented approach, as well as commitment to patients and the hospital system
- A professor at your university where you did well in your coursework, visited office hours often showing interest and acumen in the subject, or served as a teaching assistant for their course
- If you have taken a gap year for service projects like Americorps, a letter from your supervisor or mentor there can be extremely impactful as this is a unique experience that highlights dedication to service
This is by no means an exhaustive list, however one theme is important throughout all of these experiences – that you have spent significant time with these mentors and they can speak to your abilities in detail. Admissions committees have experienced readers that can tell when a form letter has been sent in with little detail included, versus when a mentor has taken genuine interest in the person they are writing the medical school letter of recommendation for and clearly knows them well.
How do you ask for a medical school letter of recommendation?
As with most interactions that lead to success with mentorship, being polite and courteous is always the key. If you are able to ask in person and then follow-up with an email, that is a bonus and many mentors will appreciate it. If it is not possible geographically then it is reasonable to send a courteous email. There are many ways to ask for a letter politely, however the example below will serve you well if you have not yet drafted your own:
I hope this email finds you well. I am excited to share that I will be applying to medical school this cycle, and I am currently underway in getting my entire application prepared. As someone who I have worked closely with over this period and whose mentorship has meant a great deal in this journey, I was wondering if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. Thank you very much for all that you have done, and I look forward to hearing from you.
This may be modified, edited, and added to if needed to suit your specific circumstance, but it can serve as a good starting point for many applicants. If you have any further questions on how to go about this, or need help at any stage of your application, use our medical school admissions consulting services and always feel free to reach out to our team!
Frequently asked questions
That depends entirely on a number of factors, including your overall GPA, science GPA, MCAT score, letters of recommendation, experiences, personal statement, and secondary application in addition to other factors. The average GPA and MCAT score for accepted students in 2021-2022 was an overall GPA of 3.74, science GPA of 3.67, and mean MCAT score of 511.9.
Since medical schools can receive thousands of applications for very few spots, and many of these applicants all have average or above average GPA and MCAT scores, the personal statement can become and important differentiator.
Extremely important. In fact, many medical schools will weigh this even more heavily than the general application personal statement, because they personally chose the prompt and want to hear why you are a great fit specifically for their medical school.
Absolutely. You should have multiple people review your essays for grammar and spelling errors, transition quality, and overall message. The most polished essays that are application-ready have usually been through at least 2 or 3 revisions prior to submission.
You should start it well before May 1st, with plans to submit your application as soon as you are able to in the beginning of June in the application cycle. Due to rolling admissions, it is a significant advantage to apply early before spots are beginning to fill up. This means that you should also notify your mentors for letters of recommendation before these dates to give them ample time for submission.