What are medical school “letters of intent” and what role do they play in the medical school admission process? A letter of intent is like a love letter that’s sent to a medical school: it expresses an applicant’s fervent wish to enroll at that one particular school, stating why the applicant feels so strongly about the school, its environment, student culture, and curriculum—and articulating in clear terms what they might contribute to the school if admitted.
The ultimate purpose of the letter of intent is two-pronged:
1. To let the school know that it is, without question, your top choice.
2. To inform the medical school that you will accept their offer if given the chance.
When weighing one applicant over another—and if they are equal in all other measures—a letter of intent may make a difference.If the admissions office believes that one applicant is more enthusiastic about the school and would therefore join the incoming class, she may have a better chance of being accepted. An admitted applicant who enrolls affects the school’s “yield,” the percentage of admitted applicants who opt to enroll. This is often one of the measures used to assess a school’s rank and prestige. So admissions officers care whether admitted applicants accept their offer.
A letter of intent should only be written for one school. It would obviously be unethical for an applicant to state that she would enroll at every school where she has not yet been admitted; that can only be true for one school. However, applicants can still write “letters of interest” to other schools, stopping just short of stating they would enroll if admitted. But the letter of intent should be reserved for the true top choice.
What’s the proper format for a letter of intent? The letter should be passionate, eloquent, direct, and relatively brief (no more than one page). In general, this format works well:
Paragraph 1: Thank the school for their consideration of your application. Be gracious; express your gratitude for still being under review. Describe briefly some of the things you enjoyed during the interview process. A letter of intent doesn’t generally ring true unless you’ve had the chance to interview at several schools; only then, when you have a point of comparison, does the letter sound authentic.
Paragraph 2: This paragraph should address WHY you’re focused on this particular school. Be specific and cite what you find appealing about its culture, curriculum, learning atmosphere, etc. Why are you drawn to it? Show the reader that you understand the school to its core and help admission committees see why it resonates with you. Convey your enthusiasm!
Paragraph 3: Describe what you would add to the school. How will you contribute to the student body and the school’s environment? Why should the school admit you? Be specific. Allow the reader to envision you as a student who would add something special to the incoming class.
Paragraph 4: A brief closing; reiterate that you will enroll if given the opportunity and thank them again for considering your application.
If you have any questions about letters of intent feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting
Originally posted in 2017 and updated in 2022