Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important part of your application to medical school. Medical schools rely on letters of recommendation to learn about important aspects of your potential as a medical student that they cannot glean from your GPA and MCAT score: in particular, your communication skills, interpersonal skills, and intellectual curiosity.
It is essential that you develop good relationships with some of your professors if you want to obtain strong letters of recommendation. Ask questions in class, go talk with them during their office hours, and ask them about their research interests. Developing relationships with your professors is an important part of your intellectual growth. If you have learned a lot from a professor and enjoyed his or her teaching style, consider taking a second class with the same professor. Doing so will provide you an opportunity to learn more, get to know the professor even better, and perhaps obtain an even stronger letter of recommendation.
Most medical schools require a minimum of three letters of recommendation. Many require three letters of recommendation from faculty and specify that at least two of these letters should be from science faculty. The IU School of Medicine requires at minimum one science faculty recommendation (from a biology, chemistry, or physics instructor), one non-science faculty recommendation, and one personal recommendation. A suggested plan would be to obtain a minimum of three faculty letters of recommendation (one nonscience and two science) and one personal letter of recommendation, plus any additional letters from faculty who know you well. Often an applicant's file can be strengthened by including letters from professors in small humanities and social science classes, because in these classes professors often get to know you better and learn more about your critical thinking skills through frequent interaction in class discussions, and reading the papers you have written.
Choose your recommenders wisely and request recommendations from them early. Open a recommendation file with the HPPLC Recommendation Service by your sophomore year. Most applicants rely more heavily on letters of recommendation from their advanced-level coursework, but if during your freshman or sophomore year you have taken a course in which you have excelled and gotten to know the professor well you should consider obtaining a letter from the professor at that time.
Ask your professors for recommendations soon after completing the class, rather than months later when they may have forgotten about you. Remember that your professors will be reflecting on your maturity and professionalism in their evaluation of you. Give all your recommenders a detailed statement about yourself and a resume to help them write a more effective letter. Once a professor has agreed to write a recommendation for you, show professional courtesy to them and exercise patience by allowing them reasonable time to submit the letter.
Letters of recommendation are sent to medical schools at the time you are submitting secondary application materials. You will have the option of sending individual letters of recommendation or the Premedical Faculty Composite. Some medical schools will ask that you submit a premedical committee or composite letter. The Premedical Faculty Composite that HPPLC prepares for applicants consists of a compilation of all the letters written by your faculty recommenders into one document (please see the sample available in the HPPLC office). The letters are presented unedited and in entirety. You must have at least three recommendation letters written by faculty in order to have a composite made by our office. Only faculty recommendations are included in the composite, while personal recommendation letters are not part of the Premedical Faculty Composite.
For more information on recommendation letter procedures, please refer to the HPPLC Recommendation Service page, and thoroughly read the publication, "A Guide to the Recommendation Service for Medical and Health Profession School Applicants."