Types of Letters of Recommendation

Medical School Letter Requirements

Medical schools specify the number and type of letters that they require. For example, medical school X may state, “We require 3 faculty letters of which 2 must be from a science instructor.”

Faculty Letters of Recommendation (LOR)

Two academic evaluations from instructors who have taught you in formal lecture courses, seminars, independent study courses or as a research mentor are required for the HPA File of Evaluations. At least one of these letters must represent the sciences or engineering. The other academic evaluation may be from an instructor in a science or a non-science course. Both academic letters must be from Duke instructors. Exceptions for non-traditional applicants can be made to the above faculty letters.

Do not include evaluations from teaching assistants. However, if you took a course in which a graduate student was the “instructor of record” for the course (e.g., Writing 20), that graduate student may serve as an evaluator if you wish. And you may have a letter written by your recitation instructor in Physics at Duke since they are all Ph.D.’s in the department and get to know you better than the course director.

If you are in the Pratt School of Engineering, you may include letters from engineering professors. For a balanced evaluation, you should seek at least one letter from a non-engineering source.

Research, Internship, Volunteer, or Work Related Letters

Your third letter of evaluation may be a research, internship, volunteer, or work-related letter. You may also include additional letters of evaluation from a research or clinical internship or a summer job in a relevant field, or a significant extracurricular activity. In choosing an accomplishment to have represented by this letter, take care that it parallels the emphasis in your application essay. For example, if you state your career goal as that of a dentist or physician in under-served areas and support your statement by describing a service project you did with an under-served population, your evaluations should include a letter from a faculty sponsor or administrative advisor to or director of that project. If you highlight a summer laboratory experience in your essay, it carries more impact if it is described and evaluated by the scientist with whom you worked.

If you are doing a “Distinction Thesis“, a letter from your research mentor is extremely desirable. If you list a co-authored publication and/or a “Distinction Thesis” and you do not have a letter of evaluation from your research mentor, this will raise questions with admissions’ officers as to why you do not have an evaluation from this significant experience. A letter from this type of experience is absolutely a requirement if you want to present a competitive application.

Employer evaluations are not very useful unless that person acted in the capacity of mentor or teacher or unless the job you had involved working with patients or in a setting where interpersonal interactions were critical (e.g., camp counseling). An exception to this is the non-traditional applicant. If you graduated and are now working, you should plan to include a letter or letters from your current and former employer(s).

“Personal” or Character References

A small number of schools ask applicants to provide character references, written by persons who have known them personally but who provide no information pertaining to their academic performance or other accomplishments. Such letters are not acceptable for inclusion in your Duke “File of Evaluations”, and should be mailed directly to the schools by the persons writing them. Likewise, if an alumnus/a of a particular medical school offers to write to his/her Alma mater on your behalf, the letter should not be included in the HPA “File of Evaluations”, but rather mailed directly to that school.

IMPORTANT: Letters of Evaluation are requested and submitted through AdviseStream.