Best Practices: Letters of Recommendation for Medical School

Topics in Higher Education | Interfolio's Dossier

Interfolio has provided a platform for requesting, storing and sending letters of recommendation on behalf of pre-med, dental and other assorted undergrad studies since 1999. In the past (almost) 20 years, we’ve learned a lot about our users, including what they expect from us and what we could add on to our service to make this process even simpler.

Below is a compiled list of best practices and informational resources related to the process of applying to medical school with a focus on letters of recommendation. Included are ways Interfolio’s Dossier can be an irreplaceable component of the application process.

When do I request my letters?

On average, we know it takes approximately 12 days from when a letter is requested to when it is uploaded by a letter writer into our system. This is of course a general timing guideline—if your letter writer is providing letters for more than just one student, this length of time can expand to multiple weeks or months. Identify who you want to write your letters by spring vacation (mid-March) and submit your requests to them all by the beginning of April. Per the Student Doctor Network, “This will give them at least 2 months to compose and submit your letters before your AMCAS submission.”

What goes into picking a letter writer?

Assume that your peers applying to med school also have high GPAs, MCAT scores and a thorough resume of extra-curricular and community-based activities. What sets you apart? Who you choose to provide a letter or support may make the difference between early admission or being chosen above other applicants. Do you have a professor, mentor, community leader or even someone in the medical field that can warmly vouch for you?

Based on an article on the Student Doctor Network, “Most medical schools will require at least 3 letters from professors of undergraduate classes: 2 science & 1 non-science.” Outside of letters related to courses you excelled in, it’s also a best practice to have letters related to extracurricular or community-based activities you were involved in. It’s best to shoot for 4-6 letters of rec that span all avenues of your work and personal achievements.

How do I make the request?

At this point you have identified your 4-6 letter writers and now need to approach them with your request.

  • Assuming you know the person well and have a good relationship, ask them in person.
  • If you can’t ask them in person, send a well-outlined email including all the details of why you want them to write you a letter, what specific attributes you hope they include, as well as timing of when you need the letter.
  • Use Interfolio to request your letter.
    • Create your free Dossier account
    • Collect letters into your account by requesting recommendations
    • Your letter writer will receive an email from Interfolio asking them to submit your letter to your account
    • You will be notified once the letter has reached your account

How do I submit my confidential letters?

To keep a letter confidential and ensure it’s approved by AMCAS or another receiver, you should have your letters submitted one of 3 ways:

  1. Directly to your school
  2. Via AMCAS or a related health profession’s delivery service
  3. Interfolio’s Dossier Deliver

If your institution’s pre-medical advising office provides a letter of evaluation service, you may be able to arrange to have all of your letters transmitted to AMCAS through that office. If you choose to use Interfolio you will receive with your account subscription:

  • A lifelong place to request and store your letters
  • A quality control check on all letters as they are scheduled for delivery including:
    • Checking for a signature and official letterhead—so that you don’t risk the letter getting rejected by the schools where you’re applying.
    • Making sure the file uploaded is in fact a letter
    • Making sure the letter bears both your name and the letter writer’s name
    • Making sure the letter is legible
  • Guaranteed letter content confidentiality for your letter writer, and for you
  • A customer service team ready to field all your questions

Whatever avenue you choose to deliver your letters, be aware of timing for the rest of your application and other related deadlines.

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Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.