Letters of Recommendation

Students

Letters of recommendation comprise one of the four key application components for health professions programs. They are crucial for painting a holistic and robust picture of each applicant. As such, applicants should consider potential recommenders throughout their college years and be cultivating close relationships with a variety of people.

It is important to develop a list of recommenders who will be able to speak to applicants' various strengths, capabilities and aptitudes from different standpoints. This includes academic, clinical, research and other professional areas. Students should particularly take note of the breadth, depth, and rigor expectations of their coursework and consider how their academic letters of recommendation speak to those areas.

Pre-health students should remain cognizant of the AAMC Core Competencies and how their potential recommenders will be able to speak to and illustrate these competencies. While they're crafted for applicants to allopathic medicine programs, they are applicable to all health professions programs.

To view our information session about Letters of Recommendation: Whom and How to Ask (hosted jointly with UConn OUR), please go to our website here and look for the session from 2/8/21.

Whom to Ask

Our office recommends that students submit a minimum of three (3) letters and maximum of seven (7) letters; most students average around five (5) letters.

Generally, we recommend students aim for:

  • 1 – 2 letters from Science Faculty (typically Biology, Chemistry or Physics)
  • 1 letter from Non-Science Faculty
  • 1 letter from a Clinician
    • Note: If you are requesting a letter from an MD or DO physician, specify directly to them whether or not you want the letter addressed to MD/DO programs respectively; we will not include a DO letter in an MD application (and vice versa)
  • 1 letter from a Research PI (if applicable)
  • 1 – 2 letters from character references (i.e., supervisors in a volunteer or work setting)

Applicants should only ask for a letter of recommendation if they are confident that the recommendation will reflect them in a positive and supportive light. These are an important component of any applicant's candidacy, so students should take care in choosing the ideal recommenders.

Applicants should also consider the AAMC Core Competencies as they decide who they would like to ask. Speaking to these competencies both explicitly and implicitly is an integral part of one's application to health professions programs. Selecting recommenders who will be able to draw attention to particular areas will be an asset in one's application.

If you are unsure of how to cultivate and create meaningful relationships with possible recommenders, please remember the following:

  • Your recommenders have been in your shoes!

For almost any job—clinical, academic or otherwise—or pursuit of higher education, letters of recommendation and references are essential. It is a normal and expected part of the process, and anyone you might request is aware that they can and will be asked to write letters of support.

  • You don't have to be the "loudest person in the room."

It is ok to participate in classes in ways that make you comfortable. It takes time to develop strong oral and verbal communication skills, and this process is part of your journey at UConn. Do your best to be attentive and engaged during class, ask questions where appropriate, reach out to your professors to express interest about class topics that intrigue you, and seek help with subjects you feel less comfortable in. If you feel more comfortable beginning over email, consider sending your professors news articles, podcasts or academic studies you've seen that you feel tie in well to course material and can act as a starting place for a conversation.

  • Displaying your personality is just as important as showing your academic and/or professional acumen.

The AAMC Core Competencies are as much about social, organization and professional skills as they are about scientific and academic skills. Showing your personality is not just ok—it's encouraged! Let your recommenders get to know you as a person and how your skills make you a strong fit for a clinical environment.

  • Your professors are happy to help you.

It's their job! Professors are in their role to help you learn and grow, and they value using their experience to help you in achieving your goals. Don't feel like you're a pest—if you connected well with them, it shouldn't be a surprise for them to hear from you.

For additional help, review the AAMC Advisor Corner: Choosing the Right Letter Writers resource.

 

NOTE: Letters of recommendation are expected to be received in English. If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from someone who does not speak English or is a non-native speaker that would feel more comfortable writing in their native language, you will be expected to find someone to translate the letter accordingly.

How to Ask

DO:

  • Ask directly—meeting in person is the most professional, personal way to request a letter and it shows strong initiative and interest on your part; if you cannot meet in person, try to do so through video conferencing or by phone.
  • Ask early and give a rough deadline—by giving them enough time to draft your letter, you won't have to hound them later to get it done (early June is typically a good deadline for health professions programs).
  • Explain why you are asking—discuss what programs you're applying to, what your academic and professional goals are, and give a brief explanation of your motivation.
    • Some recommenders might request your resume, personal statement, and/or related materials—have these at the ready so that you can provide them easily for their convenience.
  • Tell them what the submission process entails—explain that an automated request from the UConn Quest Portal will be sent to them by email and they will be provided further instructions within.
  • Explicitly detail the formatting requirements—letters need to be dated, on official or personal letterhead (official is preferred), and include a physical/written signature (an electronic version of their hand signature is acceptable).
  • Consider what core competencies you might like your recommender to highlight—you should be able to identify a few areas that each specific recommender can speak to; make them aware that you would like them to expand on those areas as an important part of your candidacy

DON'T:

  • Ask latemany of these professors you are asking will receive many other requests from students just like yourself; be respectful of their time.
  • Ask someone you aren't sure will write you a good recommendationdo your best to build meaningful relationships with your professors, clinicians and supervisors; you want to ensure that letters written on your behalf will be positive and supportive of your candidacy

How Letters are Collected by Our Office

Letters of recommendation are collected electronically on the UConn Quest Portal through our Health Professions Letter Packet. 

Students will first complete the Application Registration information section of the portfolio; when doing so, you must waive your right to see your letters and grant the office permission to release information on your behalf. After completing registration, students will then proceed to add their recommenders' names and contact information into the system and send their recommendation requests. Note that there is a minimum of three (3) letters and maximum of seven (7) letters required for this process.

As each recommender is added, an automatically-generated email will be sent directly to them; they will be provided a link that they will use to upload their letter once completed. Formatting instructions will be included in this email; however, students are also expected to make their recommenders aware of formatting expectations.

If there is an issue with the formatting of an applicant's letter(s), someone in the office will contact the applicant directly to alert them. It is then the applicant's responsibility to contact their recommender and ask for an updated copy—the office will not reach out to recommenders, except in extraordinary cases.

Letters are only reviewed by the office for formatting errors once all of an applicant's letters of recommendation have been received. We do not monitor when individual letters are received, so it is an applicant's responsibility to notify us when all letters have been submitted. An email will be sent to the student automatically each time a letter is uploaded.

 

In the case that recommenders are unable to access the original link given to them, they are encouraged to simply email the letter to our office at premed_predental@uconn.edu. Recommenders should not send their letters to the applicant directly. If desired, recommenders can also send the office a physical copy of the letter through traditional mail or by fax. The required contact information can be found on our website here (keep in mind this is not advised at the moment due to remote operation).

How Letters are Collected by Application Services

For information about how to request letters of evaluation, please see the following links directly to the application services to which individuals will be applying. Applicants will need to request a Letter Packet from our office for formal submission to these services.

  • Allopathic Medical School (MD)—AAMCAS
  • Osteopathic Medical School (DO)—AACOMAS
  • Dental School—AADSAS
  • Texas Medical and Dental School—TMDSAS
  • Physician Assistant—CASPA
  • Optometry School—OptomCAS

How to Follow Up with Recommenders

  1. Make sure to express your gratitude for your recommenders throughout this process.
  2. Once they agree to write a letter on your behalf, send them a note of thanks and offer to provide them any additional information they might need throughout the process.
  3. Once they have uploaded their letter or around the time that you submit your applications, let them know of your progress and express your thanks for them having been a part of the process.
  4. If your recommenders say they would like to hear updates about your status, take them at their word! Let them know of any acceptances you receive so that they can experience your joy with you.

Recommenders

Letters of recommendation are an essential and influential part of any applicant's candidacy for health professions programs. The Pre-Medical & Pre-Dental Advising Office recognizes that there is a significant time commitment involved with writing such a letter, and we thank you for your efforts.

Please read the following information to understand what is expected of you as a recommender in terms of formatting requirements, letter content, and submission procedures. Take special care in noting the "Avoiding Bias in Letter Writing" section, which addresses ways to account for unconscious bias in framing, word choice, etc.

Remember that our office is here to help if you have questions throughout this process. You may email us at premed_predental@uconn.edu.

Formatting Requirements

Our office acts as an intermediary in our role between our applicants and the schools to which they apply. As such, we are responsible for ensuring that formatting requirements are met on our applicants' behalf. If your letter is missing one or more of these formatting criteria, the applicant will contact you. It is our office's policy to contact applicants regarding any formatting errors; it is then their responsibility to contact you if they wish to receive an updated version of the letter.

ALL letters of recommendation need to be submitted as a PDF or Word Document only, with a date, hand signature (an electronic version of your hand signature is acceptable), and professional letterhead (personal letterhead will be accepted if you do not have access to professional letterhead).

All letters should also include a general address. For example, one should say "to the medical admissions committee" or "to whom it may concern"—please do NOT address the letter directly to our office or to UConn Medical.

The guidelines we share are taken directly from professional schools and their specific requirements and are used as a means of confirming authenticity. While our office does attest to the authenticity of each letter we receive, it is still necessary for these guidelines to be met to avoid encountering any problems upon formal submission.

NOTE: Letters of recommendation are expected to be received in English. If a recommender does not speak English or English is their non-native language, they are still able to write a letter of recommendation for an applicant. We recommend they work in tandem with the student to find a translator.

How to Upload Your Letter

You will upload your letter through the UConn Quest Portal. You do not need to do anything other than follow the directions that are provided to you in the auto-generated email sent to you when an applicant requests your letter.

If you are associated with the university, please follow the instructions for "UConn Affiliates." If you are from an outside organization or institution, please follow the instructions for "Non-UConn Affiliates."

Both UConn and Non-UConn Affiliates alike will want to pay special attention to the "Instructions for giving this recommendation" section of the auto-generated email—this tells you succinctly what the formatting requirements are and what the general content of your letters should look like. If you desire more formal guidance on either of these topics, please explore the other sections on this page.

If you have trouble with the system or would like to ask the office questions, email us at premed_predental@uconn.edu.

Content Recommendations

In writing your letter, there are a few key aspects that you will want to focus on:

  1. Establish your relationship with the applicant and, therefore, credibility to recommend them.
  2. Using rich examples to illustrate the applicant's achievements and abilities—focus on quality of examples over quantity of experiences.
  3. Emphasizing personality traits, behaviors or capacities that make them a strong and suitable fit for medical school. Make sure to include any information that makes them unique or exemplary.
  4. Placing your applicant in a broader context, when possible (e.g., "top 5% of students in my 10 years of teaching").

In writing your letter, try to avoid:

  1. Summarizing their resume
  2. Giving unsupported and non-specific praise
  3. Focusing too heavily on the context of your relationship (e.g., lengthy descriptions of your course/lab/practice, unless very applicable)

DO NOT ask the student to draft or write their letter of recommendation—if you are unsure of exactly what to write, ask the applicant directly what they would like you to include and highlight.

We encourage you to explore the AAMC Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicant. This document expands upon the above guidelines and includes information about the AAMC Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students. While written for allopathic medical applicants specifically, we include these here because the principles are applicable to all pre-health applicants.

 

Additional Resources:

Writing Recommendation Letters Online manual, posted by Penn State University. This manual holds a wealth of information ranging from style suggestions to sample letters of recommendation.

Medical School Recommendations that Helped Applicants from U.S. News

Avoiding Bias in Letter Writing

First and foremost, unless you have discussed it with the individual directly and obtained their consent, avoid discussing their race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or citizenship, parental or material status. Also avoid mentioning their appearance, age, health status, or family/personal circumstances without their consent. Please seek the individual's permission—even if you maintain a close relationship with them—to reference such topics in your letter, as they may not wish to disclose certain things on their application.

When writing, be cognizant of the fact that there is both explicit bias and implicit/unconscious bias that can color your recommendation. Explicit bias is attitudes and beliefs we have about a person or group on a conscious level. Implicit/Unconscious Bias is unintended, subtle, and subconscious thoughts that happen to all of us, all of the time. Consider as well that "bias" does not always refer to negative thoughts or feelings; we are just as easily capable of being explicitly or implicitly biased towards one person or group in a positive manner as we are to be biased in a negative manner.

Understanding what biases you may hold can help you to avoid issues of misrepresentation. An important and equivalent part of this process is thinking of how comments/descriptions will be interpreted by your audience. The goal here is not to sanitize your letter; rather, to allow for the opportunity to inject some objectivity and consider how an individual might be imagined by an outside admission committee. Consider the following example:

"If you say that Chris works well in a team—that might be interpreted differently depending on whether Chris is male or female. Exactly the same language can convey different messages because of people's antecedent beliefs about gender differences. The reader might infer that Chris the man is a good team leader or someone who can work well with a team even when he isn't a leader of it. Chris the woman, in contrast, may look as if she can't or doesn't lead. For both men and women, then, it is good to be explicit that the person is both a good team leader and can work collaboratively." (from Howard Hughes Medical Institute, p. 8)

There is a wealth of studies to suggest, for instance, that more "standout" adjectives like "outstanding" or "excellent" are used to describe male-identifying candidates in letters of recommendation. In addition, recommendations for male-identifying candidates are typically more likely to include more specific and descriptive language.

As previously mentioned, stylistic factors play an important role in letter writing. In terms of potential bias, word choice can suggest a certain perception of an individual when taking into account antecedent beliefs. Consider how certain words have become synonymous in our vernacular with being used to describe a particular gender-identifying, racial, or socioeconomic group.

To combat issues of bias in letter writing:

  1. Be as evidence-based as possible with your descriptions and characterizations, providing clear, illustrative examples to back up assertions.
  2. Do not speculate when it comes to someone's behaviors or aptitudes.
  3. Consult additional resources if you want to assess the strength and sensitivity of your letter.

 

Additional Resources:

Writing a Letter of Recommendation Workshop put together by UConn's Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships (ONSF), Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI)

Writing a Letter of Recommendation; Addendum to Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for PostDocs and New Faculty by Burroughs Wellcome Fund and Howard Hughes Medical Institution (BWF–HHMI)

Discrimination and Recommendation Letters from Writing Recommendation Letters Online manual by Penn State University