An excellent letter of recommendation has several key components. On average, letters tend to be about three pages in length. Any more than that is simply too much, considering that each applicant submits at least three letters of recommendation and that medical schools receive on average 5,000 applications each year. That’s a lot of letters to read, so a letter longer than three pages may not be read all the way through or in much detail. On the other hand, a letter that is too brief – only one page in length – will hurt your application, as it will be too short to go into much detail.
The best letters of recommendation all have the following components:
1. They explain how well the letter-writer knows the applicant.
The first section of the letter explains how the writer knows the applicant – in what capacity, as a professor, mentor, supervisor, etc. – and the length of time they have known you. By establishing the background of the relationship, the writer is in the best position to describe you to the selection committee. The best letters are from people who have known you for a year or longer and who have worked closely with you on successful projects.
2. They go into depth about your accomplishments.
The majority of the letter should focus on covering what the writer has observed about the quality of your work and the characteristics that you have demonstrated. The longer this section of the letter is, the better. It is here that the recommender can help you shine as an applicant.
3. They provide details about the outcomes of your work and the impact you have on others.
Selection committees love facts, numbers, and data. Any outcomes that are emphasized as the result of your work will make the letter stand out from others. Information like the numbers of patients you have assisted as well as positive quotes from people you have worked with can provide convincing evidence of an exceptional character. Other examples of outcomes include publications, poster presentations, or awards.
4. They provide context for your accomplishments.
If you are the first person in your family to earn a college degree, this information makes all of your success even more remarkable. Including information about you like the number of languages you are fluent in or your knowledge of other cultures can also support your candidacy for medical school. A paragraph or two describing your background can really elevate a letter of recommendation and make it stand out to the selection committee!
5. They detail the reasons why you will succeed in medical school.
The best letters will use the unique characteristics that have already been used to describe you to explain why you will succeed in medical school. In convincing selection committees that you are well prepared and that you will excel in the next phase of your education can provide compelling support for your application.
I’ve read hundreds of letters of recommendation. In my experience, the five components described above are essential to making letters of recommendation stand out from others. If a letter writer takes the time to include all of these sections, it demonstrates a deep respect and strong confidence in the applicant. Contact Accepted for personalized guidance – for you or for your LOR writer.Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!