Letters of Recommendation

The letters of recommendation portion of the pre-health application typically raises the most questions and takes the most time. It is the only part of the application that depends on the efforts of multiple busy professors and healthcare providers, not to mention the emailing and letter sending that must take place to get the package finalized.

Confirm your letter writers at least 3 months before you plan to apply. You should determine specific letter requirements and quantities from your programs of choice. Letters are most commonly required from at least one of the following categories:

  • 2 Science Faculty 
  • 1 Non-Science Faculty
  • Faculty Advisor
  • Employer
  • Research Mentor
  • Healthcare Provider
  • Volunteer Supervisor

Letter Writing Tips

1. Provide an accurate assessment or evaluation of the applicant's suitability for health professional programs, rather than advocate for the applicant.

2. Briefly explain your relationship with the applicant:

  • How long you have known the applicant;

  • In what capacity you have interacted;

  • Whether you are writing based on direct or indirect observations

3. Quality is more important than letter length. Focus on the applicant rather than details about the lab, course, assignment, job, or institution.

4. Only include information on grades, GPA, or standard admission test scores if you are providing context to help interpret them. Grades, GPA, and admission test scores are available within the application.

5. Focus on behaviors you have observed directly when describing applicants' suitability for their professional program of choice. Consider describing:

  • The situation or context of the behavior

  • The actual behavior(s) you observed

  • Any consequences of that behavior

6. Admissions committees find comparison helpful. If you make comparisons, be sure to provide context. Include information about:

  • The comparison group (i.e. students in a class you taught, students in your department, etc.)

  • Your rationale for the final comparison

Faculty: Guidelines for Letter Writing

Thank you, in advance, for your important role in supporting UVA students and alumni who aspire to become healthcare professionals!

It can be difficult to write a quality letter of evaluation for students when given little guidance about how your evaluation is utilized in the application process. These guidelines intend to facilitate the writing process and provide information on how to highlight your knowledge of a student applicant.

Schools for the health professions do not expect any one letter writer to provide information about every characteristic of an applicant. Please note that use of these guidelines is optional and not intended to dictate your writing process.

Outside of these guidelines, please be reminded that your letters should be on official letterhead and feature your signature.

For a full guide and details on each step in applying to medical school, read the Pre-Health Application Guide.