Letters of Recommendation for Application to Health Professions School
Letters of recommendation are an important element of your application to health professions schools. Be sure to devote time to carefully considering what collection of letter writers would best be able to address the breadth of your skills and character traits. Use the AAMC Anatomy of an Applicant Self Assessment Guide to reflect on the core competencies valued in health professionals and evaluate which of your competencies each potential letter writer would be able to effectively address.
What makes an effective letter?
Effective letters to health professions schools indicate the context in which the evaluator has gotten to know you; the duration of their acquaintance with you; and if possible, an assessment of you as a future health professional based on their direct observation of your core competencies in action. It proves very useful if the faculty member can compare your performance, motivation, etc. with other students whom they have taught.
Requesting a letter and following up with the letter writer
Ideally, set up an in-person appointment to ask a professor if they are able and comfortable providing a recommendation letter. Keep in mind that they are busy professionals who will be taking time out of their schedules to create an effective letter. Make contact well in advance of the deadline for receipt of the letter by the school or centralized application service. Thank them after they have agreed when you send them any materials that will help them; again once the letter has been submitted; and finally remember to share your good news when you’ve been accepted.
How to build relationships with faculty and other mentors
Faculty members who know you well through class work or advising are best able to provide meaningful and strong letters of recommendation. Try to choose professors whom you have had for seminar courses or in small classes, and ones whom you have gotten to know through participation in departmental activities and projects (i.e. research), and/or through meaningful consultations during office hours.
What if I’m only in large classes?
A predicament that many students face is the difficulty of getting to know the instructor in a large lecture class. Don't immediately assume that it's impossible to get a letter from them. Talk it over with the professor – they may know you better than you think. Ask directly, “Do you feel you could support my candidacy for medical/dental school in a formal letter of recommendation?” Talk with them about your motivation for professional school, review your work in their class, and offer to share your personal statement and/or resume. Perhaps you've come to know the graduate Teaching Assistant in your lab section quite well, and they could write a collaborative letter jointly signed by your professor. While not ideal, you may need to consider this option. The letter would require some text from the professor as well as their validation of the graduate TA’s credibility.
Avoid asking for letters from friends, family members, your personal physician or clergy.
These kinds of letters are generally not considered particularly helpful, as they are often highly subjective. If you would like additional guidance with identifying appropriate reference providers, talk with your Pre-Health Advisor.
For Applicants Participating in the Committee Letter Process
Choosing your letter writers
To participate in the Committee Letter Process, most candidates will need three letters of recommendation.
At least two of the three must be from UVM faculty, one of which must be a science professor with whom the candidate had a class.
- For neuroscience majors, a psychology professor can fulfill the “science faculty requirement.”
- For Exercise Science or Nutrition majors, a professor from your home department who has taught you in class can fulfill this requirement.
A total of two of the three letters must be from science professors, at least one of which must be a UVM professor (see prior requirement).
- The second science letter writer can be: a science professor from another university, including a graduate professor; a science professor for whom the student was a teaching assistant or worked with closely in an advising relationship; or a science research mentor (during or after college).
- Candidates who are/were humanities or social science majors may occasionally be granted an exception to the “two science professors” rule based on a variety of individualized factors. Those granted an exception will be required to have letters from 3 UVM professors, one of whom must be a Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Mathematics (BCPM) professor. Requests for exceptions will need to be approved in advance of scheduling the CLP interview.
- All candidates are encouraged to include a letter from a non-science faculty or mentor with whom they have had impactful interactions through coursework or community engagement.
A fourth letter of recommendation is required for:
- Candidates who are not current undergraduates at the time of their participation in CLP. The fourth letter should be written by someone who can address aspects of the applicant’s candidacy / character pertinent to the period since the applicant’s undergraduate career.
- Dental applicants: The fourth letter must be from a dentist
- At your Readiness Assessment Discussion, you can review your list of potential letter writers with the Health Professions Advisor.
Outreach to potential letter writers
Informal outreach to letter writers can begin in the year prior to application. You should wait to submit a formal request until you are certain of your eligibility for the Committee Letter Process. When you formally ask the letter writer to submit a recommendation, you must provide them with a signed Letter of Recommendation Request Form. This form will also contain guidelines for writing a letter and instructions for where the form and the LOR can be sent. The form can be accessed within the Health Professions Portfolio Blackboard Organization.
CLP Letter of Recommendation submission
Letters of recommendation in support of CLP participants are due by April 15. It is up to you to communicate this to your letter writers, and to follow up to confirm receipt. Specific instructions on how to input names of letter writers on Blackboard and track receipt of the letters by the Committee will be available within the Health Professions Portfolio Blackboard Organization.
Last modified October 15 2019 10:19 AM