Will It Look Bad to Use an Old Letter of Recommendation?

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OPM 279: Will It Look Bad to Use an Old Letter of Recommendation?

Session 279

This week, we have a question about letters of recommendation, and especially older ones. Should you go for a recent online professor that you have no personal connection with? Or the one that’s more personal and relevant but from three years ago?

Questions answered here on the podcast are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum over at premedforums.com. Please go ahead and register for an account, ask your question, and have fun with the community.

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[02:59] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“Hello everyone,I am in a bit of a pickle and was wondering if anyone had the same issue and how they went about it. As we all know, AMCAS requires at least 3 letters of recommendation (LOR), two of which have to be professors you’ve had in the past. 

Well, I graduated from my university 2 years ago and have not had interactions with any of my professors since then. I reached out to one of those professors and they agreed to send the old reference letter they wrote for me 3 years ago. However, they said it might be detrimental to my application due to the long time that has passed since our last interaction.

I have also been retaking Orgo Chem at my local community college, however, I am not close with the professor at al. He simply knows me as my full name displayed on Zoom, which correlates with the name in the grade book. I do not feel like he would write a genuine LOR as he does not really know much about me besides the fact that I probably hold the highest grade in the class.

Hence, I was wondering if I should ask my current professor for LOR or stick to the old reference from 3 years ago which was more personal and relevant. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you.”

[04:11] Who Requires LORs

The student says “AMCAS requires at least three letters of recommendation, two of which have to be professors you had in the past.” This is false. AMCAS doesn’t require anything when it comes to letters of recommendation.

'Each individual medical school determines what letters of recommendations they 'require' or recommend.'Click To Tweet

Every medical school sets those standards. AMCAS, AACOMAS and TMDSAS have no say in what letters of recommendations are required. 

Therefore, look at the individual medical schools. Find out what their requirements are, and then potentially reach out to the individual schools. Tell them that all of your recent courses have been taken online. And so, you cannot get a good letter of recommendation because it’s an online professor you don’t interact with.

Also, ask if you can send letters from your work supervisor or your volunteer supervisor, or whatever that looks like in your specific situation.

Each of you will have specific situations that you will be put in that will allow you to get letters of recommendations that may not “conform” to the norm.

The rule of thumb is two sciences and one non-science. But the truth is, every medical school has different requirements. Some require a physician letter, some don’t. Some recommend one thing, many don’t. So at the end of the day, the question is, who can you get strong letters of recommendation from?

[06:17] Redating the Letters

I do not recommend you get a letter of recommendation from your online course professor who you don’t interact with and who doesn’t know you. The letter from a few years ago isn’t bad. And so, just ask if the professor would re-date the letter.

If you’re reapplying to medical school, or you unfortunately got a letter several years ago. Maybe you decided you didn’t want to apply, or for whatever reason, you have a letter that is dated not in the year you are applying, ask for that letter to be updated to the year you’re applying. 

For instance, if you’re applying in 2022, you want the letter of recommendation to be dated in 2022 as well. This shows the medical schools that you’re actively out there communicating with these people getting updated letters of recommendations.

[07:25] Keep Them in the Loop

Here’s a piece of advice if you have a professor from right now, and you’re not applying for a few years. Tell the professor that you really enjoyed their class. And that you’d love to stay in contact with them so that when you applied to medical school in two years, you could keep them up to date with everything you’re doing. Then ask if they’d be willing to write you a strong letter of recommendation.

And so, you’re getting permission to stay in contact with them. You’re getting their agreement that they’re going to write you a strong letter of recommendation. Ultimately, you have to stay in touch with them so you can get that strong letter of recommendation.

Again, AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSASA do not set the rules for letters of recommendations. The medical schools set the rules for each individual medical school. So go to their websites. Check out what those requirements are. And then do some research and reach out to schools if you think you need to.


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