Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important factor in the medical school admissions process. This is typically the only area of your application where a medical school will learn about your personal qualities.
It is very important that you choose a letter writer who knows you well and not one who simply knows you because you received an "A" in their course. The letter writers can range from professors and GSI’s (Graduate Student Instructors) to supervisors for voluntary activities, principal investigators in your research lab, your supervisor at work or community members.
It is your responsibility to discuss your qualifications with your letter writer(s) so plan ahead and make an appointment to do so. Arrive prepared with a resume and/or a personal statement that conveys your interests and passions for becoming a physician.
Whoever writes your letter, you should first discuss with them their comfort in writing a letter of recommendation about you and ensure that they have a good idea of what to include in a letter of recommendation for medical school. The Career Center has prepared Guidelines for writing medical school letters of recommendation.
AMCAS has also developed Letters of Evaluation Guidelines to help you and your letter writer strategize the organization of the letter and the key competencies to convey in the letter.
To ensure that all of your letters of recommendation have arrived, make sure you open a file with Interfolio, for your letter writers to upload their letters to.
In general, many medical schools need at least three letters of recommendation (2 from science faculty and 1 non-science). You should have more than 3 letters available as some medical schools are open to receiving more than three letters but remember, it is not the quantity of letters that is important but rather, the quality of these letters.
Note: Note: AMCAS has a Letters of Evaluation/Recommendation Service for participating medical schools. Your letters are included as part of your primary application to medical schools. Once your letters are submitted to AMCAS, you can select which letters to distribute to each medical school you are applying to with your primary application. You should check the participating schools for their requirements.
How Many of What Types Letters: For many medical schools, you will need to submit a minimum of 3 letters of recommendation (2 science and 1 non science letter). Typically, science letters are those from biology, chemistry, math or physics. Non science letters would represent letter writers whose discipline is in the social sciences or humanities such as English, Economics, Women’s Studies, etc. Each medical school ultimately decides whether or not a letter of recommendation from a Nutritional Science or Astronomy faculty for example, will be categorized as a science or non-science letter.
More Than 3 Letters: Always have more than the three basic letters available because some medical schools are open to receiving more than three letters. Additionally, you may find yourself in a situation where one of your science letters is from your PI (Principal Investigator) in the laboratory where you volunteer and though this letter is a science related letter, it still may not be acceptable to a medical school. You will then need to submit a letter from a professor from a science course that you have taken and by the time that you need to obtain a letter from a professor, it might be too late and more importantly, too difficult to obtain.
Note: Letters going to AMCAS must include your AMCAS Letter ID found on your Letter Request Form. ACCOMAS accepts evaluations electronically by evaluators using the AACOMAS recommended portal Letters by Liaison. Be sure to provide your letter writer your ACOMAS ID# to include in your letter.
Letters of Recommendation
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
Who To Ask: Always ask individuals who know you well. At Cal, the large class sizes create a challenging environment for you to get to know a professor and vice versa. It is common practice for Cal students to request a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) to write a letter and to have the GSI ask the professor to either co-sign or co-write the letter of recommendation. Another option is to request letters from professors in an upper division course. Generally, an upper division course has a smaller class size than that of a lower division course.
When To Ask: Letters of recommendation should be requested several months prior to submitting your application or if you trust that the letter writer can provide you with the letter at the time of submission, this would be an acceptable albeit, a risky option.
Note: If you plan to delay your application to medical school for several years, a letter between 3-5yrs. old may not be accepted at a medical school or at the very least, be too old for a medical school to use in their evaluation. If you still want the letter that you obtained to be a part of your application, you should maintain contact with your letter writer(s) so that they can submit a more recent letter, perhaps even including your updated background and experiences.
When should I request my letters? When are letters due?
Ideally, you should ask your letter writers if they will write a letter for you within 6 months to a year before you need it. You AMCAS application will not be reviewed until your letters have arrived. It is best if letter writers have their letters submitted by July 15th of your submission year. You can submit your application without your letter submissions, and the letters can be submitted after you have submitted your application.
Cal’s Career Center has offered the “Letter Service” for many years. However, Over the next ten months, the Career Center will be phasing out its Letter of Recommendation Dossier Service. The service has experienced declining volume for a number of years, and outside vendors are now able to provide a comparable service at a significantly lower cost to students and alumni.
We will continue to serve existing clients through the summer/fall application cycle. If you are a student or recent alum needing a Letter Service account to apply for the upcoming cycle, your last day to establish a Letter Service account will be August 1, 2019, and distribution requests will be accepted through March 15, 2020 (Letter Service distribution fees still apply).
Students and alumni who don't plan to apply for admission or academic employment until after March 2020 are encouraged to review established outside vendors such as Interfolio. Please visit our Letter Service site for more information.
Some undergraduate institutions provide a medical school with a “Committee Packet” or sometimes it is also called a “Committee Letter”. This committee packet is typically a composite letter that is written by the Pre-Med./Pre-Health Advisor on behalf of several faculty members who interview an applicant to medical school. In addition to the composite letter, the undergraduate institution may/will add additional letters of recommendation to this composite letter on behalf of the student or at the request of a student.
For clarification, a committee packet or committee letter IS NOT a packet of letters that is composed when your professors gather together and write the letter about you and then forward to a medical school. For some students, there exists an impression that this constitutes a committee packet.
UC Berkeley does not provide medical schools with a committee packet or committee letter.