Pre-Health Letters of Recommendation

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Students: Steps to Requesting a Letter of Recommendation


Begin getting to know your professors early, go ahead and get started your first year. The better they know you, the better your letters of recommendation will be.

How do you get to know your faculty? Consider these strategies:
  • Sit up front and speak up in class
  • Attend office hours. Communicate in person, not just by email.
  • Familiarize yourself with your professor's research or other responsibilities around Grounds. How do they spend their professional time other than teaching your class?
  • Utilize the College Council "Take Your Professor Out to Lunch" Program.
  • Look for opportunities to enroll in a second course with the same professor.
  • Become a teaching assistant, peer mentor, or research assistant for a professor you have taken a class with.

Get an idea of the type of letters you will need for your profession and individual schools of interest and plan accordingly. Check out the Application Process page for your career of choice under Careers in Health Professions to find out more.

Ask Your Recommender

Make an appointment with your potential recommenders to discuss your intended goals. Request if your professor is willing to provide a positive letter of recommendation.

Make sure to provide your recommender with enough context to write a good letter. Prepare copies of the following documents for them:

  • Current resume
  • Personal statement draft
  • Project or copy of work completed for the recommender's class
  • Give your letter writer 6 - 8 weeks to write your recommendation. Make sure to provide them with a deadline.

Don't forget to provide instructions for how your recommenders should send their letter to the appropriate application tool (Interfolio or application service).

Send a thank you note. Keep your recommended updated about your acceptances!

Submission of Letters

The process to submit letters of recommendation differs among the health professions, and sometimes from school to school. See the Application Process page for your Health Professional Career of choice for more information.

For medical and dental applications, submission of letters through Interfolio is suggested. Interfolio is an online portfolio which can be used to store letters from recommenders. The advantage of this system is that it allows letters to be written as soon as possible (immediately after your class with a recommender ends, for example), and then stored until the letter is needed.

Please note: Some health professional programs request an advisor or pre-health committee letter if your institution offers one. UVA does not have such a committee, thus individual faculty letters of recommendation serve in that capacity.


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.

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

Key Areas of Interest to Health Professional Schools

Unique contributions to the incoming class:

  • Describe obstacles the applicant had to overcome, and if applicable, how those obstacles led to new learning and growth.
  • Explain how the applicant may contribute to a professional programs' diversity, broadly defined (i.e. background, attributes, experiences, etc.)

Core, Entry-Level Competencies:

Describe how the applicant has, or has not, demonstrated any of the following competences that are necessary for success in a health professional program:

  • Thinking and Reasoning Competencies: critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, scientific inquiry, written communication
  • Science Competencies: living systems, human behavior
  • Interpersonal Competencies: service orientation, social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, oral communication
  • Intrapersonal Competencies: ethical responsibility to self and others, reliability and dependability, resilience and adaptability, capacity for improvement

 *Adapted from the AAMC Guidelines for Writing a Letter of Evaluation for a Medical School Applicant (pdf).

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