Advice for Recommendation Writers

The Office of Health Professions Advising appreciates the substantial time commitment involved in writing letters of recommendation and we thank you for your efforts. As one of a group of letters written on behalf of the applicant, yours is essential to the admissions process. A persuasive letter can have a significant impact on an applicant’s candidacy during this competitive process. 

Before writing a letter

  • Only agree to write if you can provide a positive, timely evaluation. Otherwise, be honest with the applicant and decline to write the letter. A negative or vague letter is detrimental to an applicant’s candidacy.
  • Ask the applicant for a resume or CV, background statement, and examples of class work or other materials that will help you prepare your letter. Some evaluators choose to meet with applicants to discuss their qualifications, motivation for the career, and what they would like you to highlight in your letter.

What to include in your letter

  • Please indicate how long you have known the applicant and in what context.
  • Base your letter on direct experiences with the applicant. Specific information about attitude, character, motivation, leadership ability, special accomplishments, and unique contributions helps to distinguish applicants.
  • Medical schools are particularly interested in evidence that the applicant demonstrates a range of premedical competencies, both intellectual/academic and professional:
    • Scientific knowledge and scientific inquiry
    • Critical thinking and reasoning
    • Oral and written communication
    • Commitment to learning and growth
    • Cultural awareness and cultural humility
    • Empathy and compassion
    • Ethical responsibility to self and others
    • Interpersonal skills
    • Reliability and dependability
    • Resilience and adaptability
    • Service orientation
    • Teamwork and collaboration
  • When possible and if you believe it to be in the best interest of the student, please rank the applicant among other students you have known (e.g., “This applicant stands out among their peers for their [abc],” or, “This applicant is among the top three thesis students I have advised in x years in terms of their [xyz].”
     

Logistics

  • Co-written and co-signed letters are welcomed (e.g., two mentors in a research experience, a professor and preceptor in a class). An applicant may approach you asking for this type of letter and it is at the recommenders’ discretion to determine whether to write together or separately.
  • Per the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), applicants indicate whether or not they waive their right of access to read your letter. Schools prefer letters to be confidential.
  • A copy of the letter may also be used in support of the applicant’s candidacy for prizes or awards for which they may be nominated, or for fellowships, grants, or scholarships for which they may apply, at HPA’s discretion. We will not release a letter for any other purpose. Please retain a copy of your letter should the applicant request it from you for other purposes (e.g., jobs, internships).
  • We do not keep sample letters on file but we’re happy to provide feedback on your drafts. Please feel free to send them to us.

How to submit your letter

  • Please submit your comments typed in letter form, on letterhead stationery, bearing the date, your name, title and signature, and a contact email address/phone number.
  • Your letter will be sent in its original form, without excerpt or change (save for spelling/typographical errors) to the admissions committees of health professional school programs.

A note about deadlines

For applicants in the regular admission process, HPA begins to prepare committee letters of recommendation in early May and it is helpful to receive individual letters of recommendation by May. If you are working with the applicant during the spring term, it may be in their best interest for you to write after the term ends. Students are at their discretion to negotiate deadlines with recommenders. Applicants whose letters are not received in a timely fashion are disadvantaged in the application process, so please make every effort to adhere to deadlines provided by the applicant.

For additional guidance

Letter Writer Guidelines

The official guidelines from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Avoiding Bias in Letters of Recommendation