While the suggestions below can help you to get started on the letter of recommendation process, it is important to check with each school you plan to apply to in order to verify specific requirements.
When thinking about who to ask, the most important consideration is who knows you the best and can write you a quality letter! A quality relationship is more important than having made a certain grade in a course or having a letter writer from a prestigious faculty member. It is always important to choose the individuals who know you well and can speak about the competencies you have developed and why you would be a good candidate for your program.
General Guidelines for Types of Letters of Recommendation
- At least 2 academic letters (strongly suggested)
- At least 1 of the academic letters should be from a science faculty member (strongly suggested, may be required by SOME programs)
- Consider a faculty member from your Major/Minor or one who knows you both in and out of the classroom
- 1-2 letters from individuals who know you “outside of the classroom”
- Examples: a physician you have shadowed, a supervisor, a Research PI, etc.
- Someone who can speak to your work ethic, disposition, etc.
- Some professional schools may require letters from a professional in the field. For example, most Osteopathic medical schools require a letter from a DO.
- If you have participated in Research, and it was a meaningful experience, you should request a letter from a PI or Mentor (strongly suggested)
Be sure to check with the schools you are planning on applying to regarding the specific types of letters required.
It is important to remember that your letter writer is providing an important favor in your career pursuit. It is a partnership to complete the Letter of Recommendation (LOR); the best etiquette is to always offer your willingness to help in completion and to respect the privacy and preferences of your letter writers.
When asking an individual to provide a LOR, it is important to consider the following:
- Ask someone you have a strong personal connection or relationship with. If you have not spent some time with this person, consider asking the letter writer to chat with you to re-establish your connection.
- Ask well in advance. Letter writers always need ample time as they are busy with their own responsibilities. A good time to begin asking your letter writer is the fall before you apply for your intended program.
- Sometimes letter writers do not have the time to write for you, or do not feel like they know you well enough. That is OK! This is why we suggest asking multiple people and asking early. Sometimes hearing “no” is the best favor a writer can give.
- Some letter writers need more information from you in order to write a letter for you. If a letter writer does not give you explicit instructions for what they need, you may offer to share your personal statement, your motivations and career pursuits, or a resume that outlines your experiences. You should always be willing to answer any questions they may have of you at any point in the letter writing process as promptly as possible. It is important that your letter writer knows why this career pursuit is important to you and that you are willing to do your part to accomplish this pursuit.
- It is not appropriate to write your own LOR, or even a draft. If a potential writer asks you to do so, you may share the additional information we outline above, and explain that you have waived your rights of access.
- If your chosen individual confirms they will write a LOR, ask the following questions to establish follow-up protocol:
- “May I check in with you regarding the status of the LOR?” or “How would you like me to check in with you regarding the status of the LOR?”
- “Do you want or need follow up from me? If so, how often would you like follow up?”
- “How do you prefer communication – email, in person, phone, something else?”
- “What do you think is a reasonable timeline for completion? How can I best assist you with meeting your own timeline and the required timeline?”
- Write a thank you note to your letter writer.
- Inform your letter writers of the outcome of your application. They spend a lot of time advocating for you! Let them know how you did (or if you decided to wait to apply).