Letters of recommendation are an important component of the medical school application process. What other people have to say about you validates what you present in your application. Medical schools are interested in learning about your academic strengths as well as your personal competencies, such as your leadership skills, dedication to others, capacity for improvement, interpersonal skills, and the like. Letters of evaluation are one way for the med schools to get this information; people who have taught, supervised, and observed your academic, extracurricular, and professional work are in a position to comment on your capabilities.
Letters can be submitted in a variety of formats in the medical school application process.
Some undergraduate schools have a “committee letter”; applicants from that school go through a formal process, which includes filling out required forms and going through an interview with a member of the premed committee. The school then presents you as a candidate for admission to medical school through the committee letter, synthesizing the comments from other letter writers in one comprehensive package. Your committee letter would actually include the institutional letter and additional letters from outside sources (professors, supervisors, etc.)
Other schools may use a “letter packet” process, which entails gathering your letters and sending them to the schools you indicate.
You also have the option of uploading individual letters written on your behalf. Letters are uploaded to AMCAS via the AMCAS Letter Writer Application, VirtualEvals, or Interfolio; letters can also be sent to AMCAS by mail.
For Texas applicants, TMDSAS requires either a committee letter or two letters of evaluation and accepts letters by direct upload from either VirtualEvals or Interfolio or by US mail.
Here is information taken directly from the AMCAS application regarding the types of letters submitted:
“Many medical schools determine whether or not an applicant has met their letter of evaluation/recommendation requirements by the type of letters they receive in support of an application. For example, a medical school may require a committee letter OR three individual letters in support of your application. For medical schools’ requirements regarding letters of evaluation/recommendation, click Help.
Please identify the type of letter you wish to enter. If you are uncertain as to the type of letters provided by your school/institution, please ask your pre-health advisor or career center prior to answering this question.
Committee Letter: A committee is a letter authored by a pre-health committee or pre-health advisor and intended to represent your institution’s evaluation of you. A committee letter may or may not include additional letters written in support of your application. A Committee Letter is sometimes called a composite letter.
Letter Packet: A packet or set of letters assembled and distributed by your institution, often by the institution’s career center.
Individual Letter: An individual letter refers only to a letter authored by, and representing, a single letter writer. If you have already included an individual letter within either a committee letter or letter packet, you do not need to add a separate entry for the individual letter.”
The Association of American Medical Colleges has also issued a set of guidelines to help letter writers. Med school applicants might provide this guide to their letter writers in an effort to help them focus on what is most helpful to address in the letter.
What kinds of letters should you request so that the medical schools understand you best? In general, you should strive to get letters from the following sources:
1. Professors—people who have taught you can comment on your academic capabilities/strengths and the medical schools are clearly interested in knowing whether you can handle the work in med school. You would obviously want to ask professors in whose classes you performed well.
2. Supervisors—anyone who has supervised your work, whether it be in a job or in an extracurricular activity, is equipped to describe your personal characteristics, capacity for hard work, leadership skills, ability to be part of a team, etc. As such, comments from these individuals are valuable.
3. Physicians—any physician with whom you have worked or whom you have shadowed can comment on your suitability for the medical profession. You will need representation from your clinical experience/s in the medical school application process.
4. Scientists—if you’ve conducted research you will most likely want this represented in your med school application. Scientists who have mentored you will be equipped to comment on your contributions.
5. Community service activities—if you’ve engaged in meaningful community service activities it may be helpful to have someone who is familiar with your work write a letter on your behalf. Having someone write about how you have contributed to your community can help medical school admission committees understand you and your work more comprehensively.
When considering whom to ask for letters of recommendation think about all the various aspects of your life: academic, extracurricular, professional, and research-oriented activities. Strive to have each area of your life represented by a letter from individuals who can attest to what you’ve done or achieved. This will help flesh you out in the application process and bring you to life for a medical school admission committee.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting