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Letters of Recommendation

See also the Health Committee Letter >

Who should you ask?

Letters from science professors are essential. If you are not a science major, a letter from a faculty member in your department of concentration is also advantageous. Some health programs (particularly osteopathic medical, veterinary, and dental schools) require a letter from a practitioner in the field. Other good sources of letters are summer and part-time employers, people who have supervised you in volunteer work, athletic coaches, and other University staff members and administrators who are familiar with your participation in campus activities.

Character reference letters are not helpful

The neighbor who happens to be a dentist, the clergy member who knows your family through church or temple, a family friend, etc.. might all say nice things about you because they like you. But these are not useful letters. Recommendations should come from people who can comment on your performance and/or abilities in substantive areas.

Two kinds of useful faculty letters

Ideally, your letter writers should know you well and be able to support your application with enthusiasm and relevant detail. Still, it is possible to get a useful recommendation from a faculty member who taught you and 250 other students in a particular course. At the very least, an instructor for a course in which you did very well will be able to discuss the format and content of the course and how you performed in comparison with the rest of the class. If the instructor states that there were twenty graduate students in the class and you, as a junior, received a higher grade than sixteen of them on the final exam, that will tell your schools something very important about you.

How and when to ask for a letter

Make your request in person and make arrangements well before any deadlines. Faculty are very busy people and often travel, so it is best to give them plenty of time to write your letter. When you meet, bring copies of tests, papers and lab reports with you if possible, and ask the person if (s)he would be able to write you a favorable recommendation. Talk about your goals, offer to furnish any other useful information, such as a resume, and be prepared to spend a little time answering questions. Be sure to let your recommenders know why it is that you are approaching them for a letter of recommendation – did you find their teaching style innovative or their passion for the subject matter contagious? It is also important that you find out the preferred method of communication for the person writing your letter of recommendation (email, telephone etc.).

Guideline for those writing a letter of reference

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has published Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicanton their website.  Those writing letters of recommendation can view and print these guidelines from their website. 


Confidential vs. non-confidential letters

If you choose to ask your recommenders to write confidential letters, this means that you will not be able to see the contents of the letters they write. In general, confidential letters are given more weight by admissions committees than non-confidential letters. For this reason we encourage students to request confidential letters. We also encourage students to forthrightly discuss their plans with their letter writers and ask their recommenders if they feel comfortable supporting the student in pursuit of those plans.