Recommendation letters

Asking for references Types of letters you will need


You will need four to six letters of recommendations for the Medical Professions Advisroy Committee (MPAC) to write the committee letter.

All letters must be on letterhead, signed, and dated. Although you will need to request letters before you have an advisor, be sure to discuss your letter choices with your advisor. Please remember that your advisor is not permitted to reveal anything about the content of a letter.

At times the Medical Professions Advisory Committee is asked to describe the type of information the medical professions schools are seeking. Schools want information beyond the student's grade in a course. They are interested in letters that describe the student academically and personally. For example, they are interested in qualities such as leadership skills, ability to get along with others, and maturity. They want to know about accomplishments or traits that are unique to this candidate and distinguish her from others. They particularly want comments supported by specific examples when possible.

Asking for references

Carefully consider the people from whom you will request letters of recommendation.

  • Know recommenders well. They should be people who know you well, respect you, and think very highly of you. Asking people for letters is sometimes difficult for students, but these letters are essential to your application. Consider getting letters from courses in which the sections are small enough for the faculty person to get to know you. But do not be afraid to ask a professor of a large course, especially if you did well.
  • Be direct about asking for a letter of recommendation. As difficult as it might seem, ask the potential letter writers if they are be able to write you a good (or strong) letter of recommendation. Most people will welcome this question because it will give them an opportunity to either answer in the affirmative or decline if they do not feel comfortable writing on your behalf. If you have used good judgment in choosing people, most answers should be “yes.” But if someone declines, ask someone else. If someone suggests that you would do better to get a letter from someone else instead, take the advice and move on. It is better, if possible, to ask in person than on email. However, if you are not in the area, explain where you are when you email.
  • When you choose people, put yourself in their position. Would you feel comfortable writing a good letter for you based on your performance? Did you do well in the course? If you did not do as well as you had hoped, did you at least demonstrate effort and show marked improvement? Were there unusual circumstances that prevented you from doing well that need an explanation from a faculty member? If you are asking a supervisor or employer, reflect on your performance. Did you do the bare minimum or were you an enthusiastic, highly motivated, and diligent worker? Did you take extra steps to learn about the field in which you were conducting research? Did you show up on time? Were you a good team player and colleague? If you look back at the experience and feel that you could write with enthusiasm about your performance, ask the faculty member or supervisor/employer for a letter.
  • Don't underestimate your strengths when thinking about whom to ask. Sometimes students can be excessively modest. Also, don't underestimate how well a faculty member might know you. Sometimes students don't approach a teacher or employer because they feel they don't know the professor well enough—or the professor doesn't know them. But often faculty members know you much better than you think. And if you want the person to get to know you better, this could be a good opportunity to begin the process.
  • Make an appointment to meet with the faculty member to discuss the possibility of a letter.  Present present her or him with materials, such as a copy of your resume or personal statement that will help make the letter as good as it can be. Some faculty might want to see papers or exams you wrote that have their comments. The Center for Work and Service has published detailed guidelines for requesting letters of reference on its website. Be sure the letter writers know which medical profession(s) you are applying to. Alert them to deadlines.
  • Finally, thank the people who have written letters of recommendation on your behalf. At the completion of the process, be sure to inform them of your plans and thank them again. Writing letters of recommendation is very time consuming. If the outcome is successful, give faculty who wrote for you a chance to share your joy. And if it was not successful, you should still tell them the outcome. They were interested enough in you to take a considerable amount of time to write the letter. In addition, they may need to update the letter for future use.

Types of letters you will need

Check the letter requirements for each school you are interested in. In general, use the following guidelines to determine what kinds of letters you need.

Letters pertaining to science courses
  • At least two letters from science professors. If possible, aim for letters from more than one science department.
  • Letters from faculty who have been your research supervisors, but not your professors should also be included, but they cannot substitute for a science course letter.
Letter pertaining to a non-science course
  • You should have one letter from a non-science course.

​Letter(s) pertaining to your major

  • One letter must be from your major (two if double major). For science majors, this letter can count as one of the premedical science course letters. We recommend that letters in your major come from advanced courses. If your major was not in a science, the letter from someone in your major will count as a non-science letter.
  • If you are a science major, get a letter from a faculty member outside the sciences also.
Letter pertaining to your minor
  • If you had a minor in addition to the major, one letter is needed from the minor field.
Letter pertaining to transfer students
  • If you transferred to Wellesley after your sophomore year, you should get a couple of letters from your previous college.
Letter(s) pertaining to graduate school
  • Applicants with or obtaining graduate degrees: You must have at least one letter from your graduate program. Some schools require two. Check the websites of schools to which you are planning to apply. Get letters even if you attended a graduate program abroad, regardless of whether or not your grades from abroad are accepted by AMCAS.
  • If your graduate program is one that prepares you to apply to medical school (e.g., Boston University Masters in the Arts in Medical Science) and they supply their own letter directly to the medical schools, please ask two professors to submit letters to us also. Sometimes an applicant’s work in the graduate program is much better than it was at Wellesley and it helps us to have a letter or two from graduate program faculty or advisors.
  • At the same time, even if your graduate school performance is significantly better than your Wellesley course work, you need to request at least two letters from Wellesley faculty, including from your major.
  • Students in Wellesley’s Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program who did not attend Wellesley: You must ask for at least two letters from your undergraduate school, including one letter from your major/minor department(s). Discuss additional letters with the Chair or your advisor.
Letters pertaining to extracurriculars (athletics, employment, internships, volunteer experiences, etc.)
  • Applicants who have worked at medical institutions or in research laboratories outside the college, or in any area related to a chosen profession are encouraged to ask their supervisors to send a letter of recommendation describing the nature of the work and the quality of their performance. Such letters from members of a medical school faculty, for example, can be significant.

    If your research supervisor is a Wellesley faculty member who has not taught you in a science course, consider the letter as an addition to the two letters from science professors who have taught you in science courses.

    If an employer is directly connected to a particular school, depending on your relationship and comfort level, you might ask whether she or he would consider sending a copy directly to that school’s admissions office after you apply, in addition to uploading the letter to Interfolio for inclusion in the committee letter. (Be diplomatic. This is not a typical request. This is completely at the discretion of the letter writer to determine how appropriate this is; similarly, you must determine how appropriate it is for you to ask.)​
  • ​Letters from employers who know you well are welcome, even if the jobs were not related to medicine. If you are an alumna who has been working, you should get a letter from your current and previous employers, even if the work is unrelated to your medical profession. Speak to your MPAC advisor about letters from other possible sources.
  • If you have had any volunteer activities or service to others where supervisors know you very well and are comfortable writing a good letter, consider getting a letter of recommendation.
  • Athletes: Letters from team coaches are highly welcome.
  • Summer employment during the summer in which you are applying: Letters from employers and supervisors can be sent separately at the end of the summer
If you are an applicant to one of the medical professions below, you might need other letters. For example: 
  • Dental programs: Schools may want a letter from a dentist with whom you have worked or volunteered.
  • Optometry programs: The MPAC requires the same types of letters for Optometry as for the other medical professions. However, according to the quote below from the OptomCAS website, letters from the following types of evaluators are strongly encouraged by the optometry schools:
    • ​“An optometrist who can state through documented experience that you know what the profession of optometry entails.”
    • “A professor with whom you have done personal work (such as assisted on a specific project or served as a TA or reader), or with whom you took a course.”
    • “An employer or extracurricular activity advisor who can comment about your maturity, diligence, and conscientiousness.”
  • ​Osteopathic Medical programs: Schools frequently require a letter from an osteopathic physician you shadowed or with whom you worked.
  • MD/PhD programs: You must have research-related letters in addition to letters regarding academic coursework. Generally these programs require two letters from researchers with whom you have worked. Applicants might need extra recommendations as these very competitive programs need detailed research documentation.
    • If you are applying to both MD and MD/PhD programs, we will need two letters from each letter writer, one recommending you for the MD program and another for the MD/PhD program. If you are applying only for MD/PhD programs, one letter is enough.
    • If you are applying to all MD/PhD programs you need only letters addressing MD/PhD programs even if you choose to ask to be considered for MD only programs if you are not accepted for the dual degree program at the individual schools.
    • ​The requirements for letters for MD/PhD programs vary, with some schools requiring extra letters or letters sent directly to them. It is your responsibility to carefully check the websites of the individual schools to be sure you have the letters they require.
    • Be sure to notify your advisor and the MPAC Coordinator regarding all special requirements of dual degree programs. See the AAMC page about MD/PhD dual degree training and the websites of individual schools.
  • Veterinary programs:
    • ​Applicants for veterinary school must have letters from veterinarians in addition to academic letters. In addition, most schools require that special evaluation forms accompany the letters. Please be sure to check the VMCAS and individual school websites carefully for instructions. Some schools will accept only 3 letters and others will accept all the letters you list in the VMCAS application. Note that committee letters can only be submitted in paper form, and many veterinary schools will only accept eLORs and do not want any committee letters. If all the schools to which you are applying do not accept paper letters, please let us know.
    • Please consult the web sites of schools you are interested in to see their requirements for letters of recommendation. You will need to plan in advance to accommodate the requirements of each school because they are not consistent.