It can feel intimidating to ask someone for an LoE: you may be unsure how to ask or what information to provide to a potential writer. Learn some helpful tips from an admissions dean.
Letters of evaluation (LoE; i.e., letters of recommendation, LoR) are a required component in a medical school application. For medical schools, letters can further contextualize your attributes, skills, and experiences that are present in other aspects of your application or provide new evidence of these important characteristics. In particular, LoE provide admissions committees a more well-rounded perspective of you as an applicant and future medical student, especially when letters are written by those who know you from different contexts.
Asking for LoE may feel intimidating — you may be unsure how to ask or what information to provide to the potential writer. In some cases, a letter writer may ask an applicant to write their own letter and then the “writer” will modify it slightly and sign/submit or sign and submit as written. Such a scenario is generally seen as unethical by admissions committees. The purpose of the LoE is to provide an assessment and perspective of the applicant from the letter writer’s point of view, with examples of attributes observed and/or other personal characteristics or experiences. If an applicant is asked to write their own letter, the medical school admissions committee is not gaining this additional perspective. Below are some strategies to help you request strong LoE.
How to Navigate “The Ask” for LoE
- Create a Plan: Plan ahead to optimize LoE submission, taking into consideration school deadlines and that your writers may be asked by several other students for LoE as well.
- Brainstorm Potential Evaluators: Think through who you will be asking and try to aim for diverse perspectives, if possible. If you think that you may be requesting a letter down the road from a particular individual, you can give them advanced notice of a forthcoming request.
- Review Medical School Requirements: How many letters do the schools you’re applying to require? Do they require letters from specific types of individuals (e.g., physician or professor)? Does your university have a premedical committee who will write the letter? Do you need to submit recommenders to them? Will your school of choice accept the committee letter in lieu of individual letters? You can use the Medical School Admission Requirements™ (MSAR®) report on LoE to find these details for each school.
- Update Your Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV): Update your resume or CV and provide it to your letter writers. This will give them even more context about you as an applicant.
- Review the LoE Section of the AMCAS® Application Guide: Be well-informed about what to provide your letter writer so they can easily upload the letter in the AMCAS portal.
- Offer to Meet: Let them know you are willing to meet to provide additional information. During this meeting, explain your plans to apply to medical school, and if they have a relatively narrow knowledge of who you are, offer more background information about yourself.
- Be Courteous and Provide all the Necessary Information: Regardless if a meeting is necessary, provide all of the information they will need to complete this task including your resume/CV, Letter Request Form (see AMCAS Application Guide), instructions for submitting the letter to the AMCAS portal (see AAMC website), your deadline, the AAMC guidelines for letter writers, and the list of AAMC Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students in case they observed any of these while working with you.
- Allow for Ample Time: Give letter writers at least one month to write your letter and upload it to the AMCAS portal.
What To Do if a Letter Writer Asks You to Write Your Own Letter
- Provide Clarification: Tell the letter writer that you respect their perspective and understand how busy they are but feel medical schools would appreciate receiving the assessment and perspective from their point of view. Convey that you are asking them because you have appreciated your time together and feel that they can provide an important perspective to your application.
- Provide Materials: Provide the letter writer with all the materials they’ll need (resume, CV, submission instructions, deadline, etc.) and offer to meet in person to assist them.
- Offer an “Out:” The letter writer may ask you to draft the letter due to time constraints. Tell the individual that you know they have many responsibilities and your request may not be at an ideal time. Therefore, if they do not feel they can write the letter, you understand.
- Seek Out Advice: If these strategies don’t work, seek out the advice of a health professions advisor or other trusted colleague (without disclosing the name of the individual) for guidance.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No:” In the end, it is your choice who writes your LoE for medical school. If you cannot resolve the situation in a way that upholds your integrity and ethics, it is okay to let the individual know you appreciate their time, but you are going to request the letter from another individual.
Ultimately you are headed into a highly ethical career, one that requires integrity and navigation of difficult situations. Agreeing to author your own letter and allowing someone else to sign it is dishonest. Maintain your integrity and strengthen your application by finding a letter writer who can authentically speak to your unique skills, interests, and abilities.
By Leila Harrison, Senior Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Affairs, Washington State University, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine