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 and abilities, and 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 what you write about in your application. 

Medical schools often have specific requirements for letters.  Three letters of recommendation is typical; six is often the maximum, but more letters is NOT a strength.  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.  Note that medical and dental schools will want to receive a Duke Committee Letter as well, and this is in addition to individual letters of recommendation. 

We recommend you ask:

  • One individual who has taught you in a science course (some schools ask for two)
  • One individual who has taught you in a humanities or social science course
  • 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)

How to Request Letters of Recommendation

Initial request: You can discuss the possibility of a letter with a potential recommender while a class 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. 

Formal request:  When possible make your initial request in person or by email.  You will want to formally request letters of recommendation in the spring of the year in which you are applying.  There is a June 1 deadline for receipt of letters, so give your writers sufficient time to write.   It is often 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. 

Submission of Letters:  Explain to your recommenders that you will add their name to your primary application in AMCAS, TMDSAS and/or AACOMAS.  You will give them a number that matches your application and they can submit their letter directly to the application service. You will be able to indicate on your application which letter(s) go to which school(s).  Please check the websites of AMCAS, TMDSAS and/or AACOMAS for directions.  If your recommender asks for more information about writing a strong medical school letter of recommendation, the AAMC has provided a helpful guide for letter writers

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.

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

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 several options.  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.   Or 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. 

Committee Letter from the HPA Office

Medical and dental schools usually expect a Committee Letter, which the HPA Office will write and submit on your behalf.  The Committee Letter is a concise summary of your years at Duke.  We can note your accomplishments, achievements, experiences, special interests, and also any obstacles you have encountered.  We provide this letter for Duke undergraduates and alumni who have recently graduated.  However, if you have attended graduate school or a post-baccalaureate program, then a Duke Committee Letter may not be best.  Instead, you might have your graduate program or post-baccalaureate program write a letter on your behalf, as they will be better able to describe your recent achievements and promise.  Similarly, if you have been away from Duke for several years, you may be considered a non-traditional applicant and a Committee Letter would not be expected.

To have us write a Duke Committee Letter for you, we require you to provide details of your experiences at Duke by filling out the Review My Application Form and scheduling a Review My Application meeting during the spring.  Please see our Applying Summer 2019 & Matriculating 2020 page for directions.

To have us submit your Committee Letter, wait until your application has been verified by the application service and then email a PDF of your verified application to prehealth@duke.edu.  The HPA Office will then release your Committee Letter to the application service(s) within 10 business days of receiving all required information.  The application service will then release your Committee Letter to the schools you are applying to. 

Note that the HPA office no longer collects Letters of Recommendation and can only send a Committee Letter to application services. If we are holding Letters of Recommendation for you from previous years, you should contact those writers and ask them to submit new, updated letters on your behalf.  If your recommender does not have their original letter, they can contact us at prehealth@duke.edu or (919) 684-6221 and we will return the original letter to them if possible.   We are not able to customize letters for individual schools, nor can we transmit your letter to any other destination. 

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)