Letters of Recommendation

About Letters of Recommendation

One of the most important factors used by professional school admissions committees in deciding whether to invite you for an interview is the letters of recommendation you provide as part of your primary application. Because of this, it is important that you carefully plan who will write these letters for you and work to build those relationships.  It is your responsibility to research individual schools and the letters they require.  This information is available on each school's website.

While the exact letter of recommendation requirements do vary from school to school, there is a pattern in the type of letters schools look for.  A majority of medical and dental schools accept or even prefer a committee letter, prepared by a Prehealth Evaluation Committee at an undergraduate school.  Other professional schools, such as occupational therapy or physician assistant graduate programs, typically don't require a committee letter.  You can learn more about the Committee Process on our Prehealth Evaluation Committee page. Other letters typically required by schools include those written by science faculty, non-science faculty, research supervisors, community service or volunteer supervisors, professionals you have shadowed or who can detail your patient exposure, or other supervisors you have had.  Letters from family or friends are typically frowned upon; rather, letters should be from someone who knows you well and with whom you have had a professional relationship.

Obtaining a good letter of recommendation requires effort over time on your part.  You must get involved in activities that allow you to get to know people who could potentially write a letter for you.  You must get out of your comfort zone a little in order to build those relationships.  Make an effort to consistently visit your professors to talk about your courses or their research, communicate effectively with your supervisors, and fulfill your responsibilities well.  This will make it so that your letters are positive and personal.

Depending on the type of professional school to which you apply, you may need up to 5 or 6 letters of evaluation.  Students applying to medical and dental schools typically require more letters than students applying to other programs.  If your schools require a committee letter, you will submit three letters to the committee for use in composing a letter for you.  The rest of your letters will be submitted directly to the schools that ask for them.  The three letters submitted for the Committee process are unavailable for your application since they will be submitted with your Committee letter.  If you apply to a school that does not utilize the Committee letter, you are welcome to have your evaluators submit their letter directly.

For students planning on applying to the University of Utah School of Medicine, a detailed description of the letters they require is available.

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

When the time comes that you need to request letters of recommendation, you should do everything you can to help your letter writers help you.  There are steps you can take to help make it a smooth process and make life easier for your letter writers:

  • Request the letter far in advance.  You will not receive a good reference if they are too rushed.  Give them a deadline by which you need the letter to ensure that it is completed when you need it.
  • Ask the letter writer if they would be willing to write a strong or positive letter of recommendation for you.  If they say no, you avoided making a crippling mistake.
  • Let them know why you have selected them and what you hope a letter from them will convey about you.
  • Offer to give them ideas of what to write about in the form of autobiographical information, a short written reminder of you interactions with them and what you learned during that time, or a description of what professional schools look for in letters of recommendation.  Encourage them to share descriptive examples rather than general statements about your character.
  • Provide them with a pre-addressed and stamped envelope or make sure they have access to detailed instructions on how to electronically upload their letter.
  • Follow up if necessary. 
  • Send a personal, hand written thank you note.  This makes it more likely that your reference will be willing to help you or other students in the future.

Dr. Andy Anderson's advice on Letters of Recommendation

'Don't be Invisible' Lecture notes