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Medical School Application Letters of Recommendation

Disclaimer: This post was written before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the interview information may not be relevant during the 2020-2021 & 2021-2022 academic years.

Hello premeds! AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS all opened in the beginning of May. We are kicking it into high-gear with premeds so they can turn in their medical school applications as soon as they are able.

I am excited to start a series of blog posts focused on tips to strengthen your medical school applications. According to AAMC, there were 53,371 medical school applicants in the 2019-2020 application cycle, and only 21,869 matriculated.

Last year, only 40% of those who applied to medical school ended up matriculating.

While MCAT and GPA scores are important for medical school applications, there are several other ways to ensure your application stands out.

In this post, I am going to focus on medical school Letters of Recommendation. If you have any other questions, comments, or insights, please comment on this post or email me directly at I’m always happy to help!

5 Common Letter of Recommendation Questions & Answers

1. How many letters of recommendation do I need?

We typically recommend medical school applicants to get letters of recommendation from: 2 professors who taught you in science courses, 1 professor who taught you in a non-science course, and 1 non-academic mentor who knows you well.

Most medical schools will allow you to submit a maximum of 5 or 6 letters.

It’s important to note that different medical schools have different requirements. Some medical schools only require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation from any individuals. Other medical schools have stricter minimum requirements. When in doubt, check each individual medical school’s website for its medical school letter of recommendation requirements.

2. Other than college professors and course instructors, who else should I ask for letters of recommendations?

There are several non-academic individuals who can write you an excellent recommendation letter.

Here are examples of letter writers our students have asked:

  • Research lab PI’s and postdocs

  • Physicians they have shadowed and/or worked with

  • Coaches

  • Employers

  • Internship mentors and managers

  • Advisers for extracurricular activities

3. What elements help to comprise a great letter of recommendation?

Similar to strong personal statements and essays, strong letters of recommendation incorporate the “show not tell” principle. Letter writers should give specific examples and stories of why you are a strong candidate. Remember, letter writers can talk about your intellectual strengths as well as your personal attributes and character.

Examples of what medical school letters of recommendation writers can write about:

  • Your initiative and leadership

  • Your work ethic

  • Your intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills, and creativity

  • Your unique talents and skills

  • Your people skills, including managing a group of individuals

  • Your character

For more details, read our other blog post: How to Ask For Strong Letters of Recommendation.

4. Should I get a committee letter?

If your undergraduate institution offers and writes committee letters for students, we highly encourage you to submit a committee letter. It can be a yellow or red flag for some medical schools if you do not get a committee letter from your school.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, some university premed advising offices are not writing committee letters. Check in with your undergraduate’s premed advising office to get the latest updates.

5. Can I get a letter of recommendation from a Teaching Assistant (TA) or postdoc in my lab?

Definitely! Ask the TA if your course professor can co-sign or co-write the letter. Similarly, ask your research PI if he or she can co-sign and co-write the medical school letter of recommendation with your postdoc.

Other Cracking Med School Admissions tips:

  • Ask each recommender if he or she can write you a strong letter of recommendation. If the recommender does not feel like she can write you a strong letter, at least you know ahead of time and can ask other individuals.

  • People are busy, especially professors and physicians. Ask your potential letter of recommendation writers well in advance. We advise our students to ask at least one-month prior to submitting their medical school applications.

  • If you are not applying to medical school yet this cycle, keep these recommendation requirements and tips in mind. Keep in touch with your mentors!

Have questions about your college, medical school, residency, and scholarship applications?

Email Dr. Rachel Rizal at

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