Letters of Recommendation & the Committee Letter

As part of your application to medical, dental, veterinary or another health professions school, you will be asked to submit Letters of Recommendation.  You may also be asked to provide a Committee Letter.  Advice on these letters and how to request and submit them is below.

Who to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Choose individuals who know you well and can speak to your strengths and weaknesses, your competencies, abilities, growth, and maturation.  All of your letter writers do not need to be associated with Duke University.  Choose your letter writers so that they support your narrative and what you write about in your application. 

Students applying to health professions programs for dental, pharmacy, veterinary, PA, optometry, physical therapy, genetic counseling and more, should refer to the resources provided by their prehealth advisor and professional application services for guidance.

Medical schools often have specific requirements for letters.  Three letters of recommendation often set a strong foundation for meeting multiple schools' requirements.  You might find you need more letters total, but they likely won’t be sent to every medical school you apply to.  You will need to check school websites and the Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) website for the requirements for the schools you plan to apply to.  We recommend you read the requirements very carefully to ensure you are sending the correct letters to each school.  Note that medical and dental schools will want to receive a Duke Committee Letter in addition to individual Letters of Recommendation.  However, other health professions schools, e.g. pharmacy or optometry, may or may not accept committee letters; you will need to closely adhere to the requirements of schools to which you apply

We recommend you ask:

  • One individual who has taught you in a science course (some schools ask for two)
  • One individual from your major department
  • A third or additional recommender of your choice, sometimes based on individual school requests

You might include:

  • Your research mentor (especially if you are applying to MD/PhD programs or completing a Graduation with Distinction Thesis)
  • Your advisor or faculty in your major
  • The supervisor of an internship, work-related experience, or significant extracurricular activity
  • A physician or health professional with whom you have worked or shadowed (if you are applying to DO schools, include a letter from a DO)

Letter Guidelines from Application Services:

  • AMCAS (allopathic medical schools)
  • TMDSAS (Texas medical, dental, veterinary schools)
  • AACOMAS (osteopathic medical schools)
  • AADSAS (dental schools)
  • CASPA (physician assistant schools)
  • VMCAS (veterinary medicine schools)
  • PHARMCAS (pharmacy schools)
  • OPTOMCAS (optometry schools)

 

How to Request Letters of Recommendation

Initial request: You can discuss the possibility of a letter with a potential recommender while a class is in progress, or during an internship or experience.  Discussing this early allows you to obtain initial consent, have further conversations about your experiences and goals, and then to formally ask for the letter later as you make preparations to apply.   Be prepared and gracious if a potential writer shows sincere hesitation as it is usually because they do not think they can write a strongly positive letter.  In that case you should find someone else.

Asking for a letter early:  If you are considering a letter from someone you know now but you aren't ready to apply, you have two options.  (1) You can ask your recommender to write a letter for you and then retain it on their computer or in a file until you are ready to apply.  This gives you a chance to stay in contact with this person, continue to work with them and update your accomplishments and experiences in the time ahead.  This way they can update or edit the letter later.   (2) You might keep a list of potential names of recommenders, remain in touch with them until the time of application, and then make a final decision at that time. 

Formal request:  You will want to formally request Letters of Recommendation no later than the March of the year in which you are applying.  If possible make your initial request in person or by email.  Provide your letter writers with the letter writer guidance from AAMC.  It is often also helpful if you give your letter writers a resume or transcript, and some may ask for a draft of your personal statement, application essay(s), and/or to have a short conversation prior to the writing of a letter.  If you are applying through multiple application services please make sure to tell your letter writers which service(s) they will need to upload your letter to.  Tell your letter writers that they will be able to submit their letter in May to the application service as Duke HPA is no longer collecting letters of recommendation.

Submit names in May: When applications open in May you will want to begin to fill out the application which will include listing your letter writers.  In addition to following the directions from the application services (AMCAS, AACOMAS, TMDSAS) you will want to review the guidance in the Duke Guide for entering letters of recommendation correctly.

  • AMCAS Applications open in early May.  Each letter will be assigned a Letter ID, a 7-digit number assigned to their letter.  Contact your letter writers again and give them the PDF that AMCAS will generate that contains your AAMC ID number (the 8 digit identification number assigned to you) and their Letter ID (the 7 digit identification number assigned to their letter).  They can then access the application service, enter the two numbers, and submit their letter directly.   You will then indicate on your application which Letter(s) of Recommendation go to which medical school(s). 
  • TMDSAS Applications open in early May.  Please check the TMDSAS website for further instructions and follow the directions carefully in the Duke Guide so that your letters of recommendation and committee letter can be uploaded
  • AACOMAS Applications open in early May.  Follow the directions outlined the AACOMAS website.  

We recommend that all Letters of Recommendation be submitted June 1.  If your writer is unable to submit by that date, some delay may be tolerable.  AMCAS won't begin to release applications to medical schools until the end of June.  However, if you find there may be an extensive delay in submission of a letter, contact the HPA Office for advice.  Those applying through TMDSAS and AACOMAS may want to aim for early June letter submissions.

June/July - follow up with the writer:  You will be able to check the submission of letters on your application portal.  If the June 1 deadline has passed and a letter has not been written, you can send a gentle reminder email. 

 

How to Request a Committee Letter from the HPA Office    

The Duke Committee Letter is not a Letter of Recommendation.  The Duke Committee Letter is a concise summary of your undergraduate years at Duke and does not include any material from your individual letters of recommendation.  We can note your accomplishments, achievements, experiences, special interests, and also any obstacles you have encountered.  We provide committee letters to current undergraduate students and those that graduated with their undergraduate degree from Duke within the last two years. If you completed a postbac program please talk with your prehealth advisor about what is the best committee letter plan for you. 

To have us write a Duke Committee Letter for you must:

  1. Complete the directions to declare your intent to apply by April 1, 2022
  2. Complete the RMA (Review My Application) form.  You may consider scheduling an RMA meeting, but they are not required.  If you do not complete a RMA appointment you will need to still email the RMA essays to prehealth@duke.edu as part of your request.
  3. Send a copy of your verified application(s) to prehealth@duke.edu as soon as your application is verified so we can submit a Committee Letter for you.  If you did not complete an RMA appointment, you will be required to complete and email the essay section prior to requesting a Committee Letter.  Please see our Applying Summer 2021 for Matriculation in 2022 page for details.  The deadline to request a Committee Letter for the 2023M cycle is September 1, 2022.

Note that the HPA office can only send a Committee Letter to application services. We are not able to customize a Committee Letter for individual schools, nor can we transmit your letter to any other destination.