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 2/3/23.
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)
Note: During the 2022 application cycle, our office began to see certain schools impose letter of recommendation limits, sometimes setting those limits as low as four letters. As such, our office strongly encourages candidates to, as best as possible, keep their letter requests to between four and six and rank them according to order of importance [in the eyes of an admissions committee] in the Quest Portal. This is to ensure that if a school has a strict maximum, the most important letters will be read first and hopefully no letters will be excluded from consideration.
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.
When to Ask
Our office recommends that applicants begin asking for their letters of recommendation in February and March of the year that you are applying. You want to give your writers enough time to write your letter without time constraints, and you also want to do them the courtesy of asking early so as not to burden them later. Our three highest-producing letter writers from the 2023 Cycle each wrote 20 letters!
For reapplicants or deferrals, you are welcome to reuse letters that you collected for a previous cycle; however, you are strongly encouraged to ask your letter writers to update their existing letter. This, at a minimum, means asking them to change the date on the letter to reflect the new year in which you are applying. They are welcome to change additional language if they would like and/or add new information if you have continued your relationship with them.
How to Ask
- 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
- Ask late—many 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 recommendation—do 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
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 to be sent to the office—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 by submitting the Letter Packet application in the Quest Portal. An email will be sent to the student automatically each time a letter is uploaded to facilitate tracking of letter submission.
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 email@example.com. 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).
CASPA, the application service for PA schools, does not letter packets, so PA applicants must request individual letters from their recommenders.
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.
How to Follow Up with Recommenders
- Make sure to express your gratitude for your recommenders throughout this process.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.