Let’s Talk Letters of Rec

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PMY 514: Let's Talk Letters of Rec

Session 514

Why do medical schools ask for letters of recommendation? What’s the point? Why do we use them? Let’s cover everything you need to know!

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Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[01:09] myLORs

We decided to build, from the ground up, a letter of recommendation service, specifically for premed students applying for medical school as well as all pre-health students. We’ve been working directly with TMDSAS and AAMC, and a little bit with AACOMAS.

myLORs is a letter of recommendation service available for users on the Mappd Pro, which you can try for free for 60 days using the referral code, MYLORSPODCAST.

[04:28] Why Medical Schools Ask for Letters of Recommendation

Out of the pandemic, we’re actually seeing medical schools starting to phase out letters of recommendation. But it’s still going to take a very long time before we see all medical schools phasing them out.

In general, medical schools want to see that you have connections with people and you’re not a hermit. You’re able to go out to interact with people. And the fact alone that you’re asking your professor or supervisor to write you a strong letter of recommendation shows you’re interacting with other people.

'Very rarely will there be a letter that does a student disservice.'Click To Tweet

[07:33] The Committee Letter Process

The committee letter process will usually collect individual letters for the committee process. The committee will read those letters and interview the student then have them go through a mock application., read their personal statement and interview them. Then they will write a letter on behalf of the student, integrating all the information that’s coming from the individual letters.

They will grade the students where they have their own secret language. For example, they say good words but the secret behind the good words means “don’t accept this person.”

“The biggest thing that you have to understand when going into this process is that each and every medical school sets the requirements for letters of recommendation.”Click To Tweet

These are not requirements by the different application services, but by the schools themselves. The rules come from the schools. 

At Mappd, we don’t have all of the letters of recommendation requirements for each school. We have prereqs for each school to make sure you’re meeting all the prereqs. And we’re building in another feature that allows you to add the requirements for the letters of recommendation.

[10:32] LOR Requirements

Every medical school has an admissions requirements page that will show what they require. The general rule of thumb for the letter of recommendation is that it has to come from two science professors and one non-science professor.

Outside of that, it may be a good idea to have a physician’s letter. Some schools require a physician’s letter, and some schools don’t. We’ll have a lot of that information in Mappd in terms of the letter of recommendation requirements per school.

“If you're applying to DO schools, you don't have to have a physician’s letter, in most cases.”Click To Tweet

But there’s a big myth that if you want to apply to a DO school, or any DO school that you have to have a DO letter. And that’s just not true, except for one. The Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine specifically requires a DO letter. Check out Choose DO explorer to see what the requirements for DO schools are.

If you shadow a DO or you scribed for a DO and you get a letter of recommendation from a DO, you can also submit that to MD schools. We understand that you are out there exploring the world and getting these experiences. And if you’re applying to MD school with a DO letter, that’s okay.

[12:41] FAQs Around LORs

What is classified as a science professor?

Whether an engineering professor’s letter counts as a science letter, AMCAS does not count engineering classes as science classes while AACOMAS counts it as “other” science. There are always going to be these little nuances where you may have to reach out to schools individually.

What if you’ve been out of school for a while?

There are a lot of nontraditional students coming into this process. Again, each individual medical school will have rules around this.

For example, Sam Houston State specifies that if you’ve been out of school for more than a year, you can use different letters. You don’t have to justify why you don’t have a science letter. You can use a work supervisor or whatever you can use for these non-traditional letter types. Other schools may also specify that you use a work supervisor’s letter instead of a science letter, but only if you’ve been out of school for more than three years or four years, or five years.

And so, there’s a lot of legwork that you’re going to have to put into this in terms of reaching out to individual medical schools if the information isn’t available online. Ultimately, you’ve got to reach out and talk to the schools.

Should you get a letter now when you’re still years away from applying?

If you’re a traditional student, you are going through this process, and you are a freshman. Maybe you really bonded with your science professor and you want to apply to medical school in a couple of years. You know you’re going to need letters of recommendation and a science letter. But you shouldn’t get a letter now. You should get a letter, but not now.

Get permission now and ask for the letter to be delivered much later. If you have an amazing professor, but you’re not applying to medical school for a few years, set that expectation that you’re going to reach back out in a few years.

If it’s been a while and you have to have a science letter, go and rekindle those relationships as fast as possible. The worst case scenario is to not apply to some of the schools that have harsh rigid rules around the letter recommendations. The second worst-case scenario is you go and take a science course at a local community college for the sole purpose of getting a letter of recommendation.

When you’re thinking about these letters of recommendation, make sure that you understand what each medical school that you’re applying to is looking for in terms of specific letters.

[18:44] myLORs on Mappd

MyLORs is built from the ground up for pre-health students to request, collect, and transmit letters of recommendation from the letter writers into our system. And then they’re passed onto the medical school application services.

Students on Mappd are able to build their school lists. Then we will start to have those letter of recommendation requirements inside of Mappd built-in inside those school lists. That way, we can see who you’re expecting to get a letter from and the medical schools you have on your list.

We will also be able to give you that nuanced information as to what kinds of letters they require. That way, you can either get the school off your list or you can reach out to the school and see if they’re taking in a letter on a case-to-case basis.

'Mappd will be the hub of all of your premed information. We'll be able to give you that nuanced information as you're starting to work on your application.'Click To Tweet

[21:11] The Nuanced Information You Need

As you’re starting to get into the application cycle, MyLORs can start to give you some warnings through this process. And then when you request a letter, the letter writer will get very specific information on the AAMC LOR requirements. We’re also going to help the letter writers understand how to do this better. 

We’re looking at building in some other tech as well so that we can get rid of the need for people to print out a letter, sign it with a pen, and then upload it back into the computer. It’s just a crazy process.

We’ll QA it for you as well and make sure that all the information is there. TMDSAS is very strict in that they require contact information for the letter writer. They require a letterhead and that the name matches, and they require a signature and all of that fun stuff.

We’re looking at very objective things for you. And then if it doesn’t pass the QA process, we’ll let the letter writer know. We’ll let you know what needs to be worked out so the letter writer can re-upload a letter. Then when it comes time to apply to medical schools, we will let the application cycles know those letters come from Mappd. Those processes and flows will change over time.

[24:12] Why a Third-Party Service for LORs

Third-party services like myLORs and Interfolio are out there for a simple reason – convenience. Unfortunately, the application services do not accept letters until the application cycle opens up for that application year.

If you are applying to medical school in 2023 to start medical school in 2024, you cannot start requesting letters and for them to be attached to your application, not until the application cycle opens up in May 2023.

Technically, you can ask the letter writer to write you a letter. But you can’t do anything with it. So you don’t send them the official request until May. But what happens if the letter writer has so many other letters to write and you’re the last in line?

Being able to send an official request that they can act on in January of the application cycle year versus May makes it much easier for everyone. And then by March, April, and May, you can start to see when the letter was turned in and what’s going on with this letter. In Mappd, we’ll have processes for you where you’ll be informed that you’re not getting a letter from this person and what are your next steps.

[26:00] Why myLORs

Because we are built from the ground up for pre-health students, we understand the timeline for the medical school application process. And we’ll be able to guide you through that process as we get closer to the application cycle.

Second, Mappd Pro is more than just myLORs. You get access to unlimited chat advising with our premed experts. And so, if you have a question about your GPA, MCAT score, school list, LORs, or whatever it is, you’ll be able to just jump into the advising tab and ask away.

[27:49] A Quick Recap

1. Understand medical schools have different requirements for letters of recommendation.

Every medical school may on a case-by-case basis, waive some of those requirements in favor of other things based on your specific situation. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to medical schools if you have questions.

2. Build relationships with your professors early on, and often, and keep those relationships alive.

A letter writer does not have to be a professor from whom you got an A. It could be a class where you got a B and you really struggled. But overcame and you crushed the finals because you were working with a professor, you went to office hours, all that stuff.

'Strong letters of recommendation don't have to be from professors in classes where you got A's.'Click To Tweet

3. The title of the person does not matter.

The goal of a strong letter of recommendation is a letter where the letter writer knows who you are. Don’t just go to some head of whatever because you happen to have a weak relationship with that person. Maybe they’re friends with mom and dad, or whoever. Then you ask for a letter of recommendation. But if they don’t know you really well, they won’t be able to write you a strong letter.

4. Get letters dated the year that you apply to medical school.

If you’re applying to medical school in 2023, to start medical school and 2024, ideally, your letters are dated in 2023. Either ask the letter writer to post-date and write 2023 on the letter, even if they’re writing it in 2022. Or start asking in January of the year that you’re going to apply.

5. If you need to reapply, do you need new letters?

In general, try to get new letters because you never know what it was about the application that required you to reapply. If you have a letter writer that you know was awesome with their letter, just ask them if they could send you another request through myLORs.

Once again, myLORs is now part of Mappd Pro. If you haven’t yet, sign up for an account and use the promo code MYLORSPODCAST to enjoy your free trial.



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