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As a faculty member at UF, you’ve probably been asked to write letters of recommendation for students applying to a professional school. If you teach in the sciences, many of those letter recommendations are probably for students who are applying to health professional graduate programs such as medicine, dentistry, or veterinary medicine. Whether you are a new faculty member, or just have questions about what professional schools are looking for in letters of recommendation, the information below should be helpful.

What information should I include in my letter of recommendation for a student?

Health professional schools use letters of recommendation as part of a holistic review of an applicant. They are, in fact, one of the most important pieces of an application according to admissions directors. Students are usually asked to submit different types of letters including academic and non-academic letters. The letters you write will typically be considered academic letters (unless you have not taught the student in a course and have only supervised them in another capacity such as research). When writing a letter, it’s important to include how long you have known the applicant, and in what capacity. Some competencies that are important to address, if relevant, are:

Critical thinking skills    Oral communication   
Quantitative reasoning skills    Reliability and dependability   
Scientific inquiry and competency    Resilience and adaptability   
Written communication    Capacity for improvement   
Teamwork   

These competencies and others are described by the AAMC on their handout. While these are specific to medical school applicants, they can also be used for students applying to other professions. When submitting your letter, please be sure it is on letterhead and is signed. Do not address the letter to any specific school, as copies of your letter will be sent to multiple schools. It is recommended that you address the letter as, “Dear Medical (or other program) School Admissions Committee.”

Why are students giving me a packet of information when they ask me to write a letter?

We advise students to provide their letter writers with a copy of their resume and personal statement which may help you better understand the student’s goals and background. If you do not want students to provide you with this information, simply let them know.

If you are a UF employee, they should also provide a Release for Letter of Recommendation which may give you permission to discuss their grades, resume, and personal statement.

When should I submit the letter of recommendation?

Students should have their letters submitted by July for most professions. Physician Assistant programs may ask for letters earlier, in May or June. Some students apply later, in which case they should have their letters submitted as early as possible after they submit their application. We advise students to begin asking for letters in early to mid-spring of the year they are applying. This means you may get request in February or March. This allows letter writers plenty of time to prepare a letter.

How long should the letter be?

Quality is more important than length, but assuming you know the student, most quality letters are one to two pages long. Try to keep the focus on the student, however, and not extraneous details that simply add length.

What if I don’t have a positive impression of the student asking me for a letter?

You should tell that student that you don’t feel as though you are able to write them a strong letter of recommendation. It won’t do the student any good to have a letter submitted on their behalf that is not positive.

What do I do with the letter once it’s written?

This varies depending on what type of professional school the student is applying to. Many application services will send you an email with instructions for electronically uploading your letter. Students applying to medical school will likely give you, or email you, the instructions for submitting the letter. Some students may ask you to submit your letter to two different places. This usually happens when students apply to both allopathic and osteopathic medical schools at the same time. Because most application services don’t open until May-July, if you write a student’s letter in the spring, you may need to wait until then before doing anything with it. Professional schools will not accept letters sent directly from students, and most will not accept letters sent directly to their school. They usually must come through an application service or letter service (Interfolio).

What if I’m a graduate student? Will professional schools accept a letter from me?

Most professional schools will accept letters from TA’s or graduate students, although letters from full-time professors are usually preferred, as their point of reference in being able to compare the student to others is often different. A student may ask you if a professor can co-sign your letter. If you are a TA and the course was taught or managed by a professor, having them co-sign the letter can be helpful. If you were the only instructor of the course, this is not necessary.

Resources
Letter of Evaluation Guidelines for Medical Schools
Release for Letter of Recommendation
Interfolio

Contact us: If you ever have questions about letters of recommendation for health professional programs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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