Letters of Recommendation

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
  • 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.  You should explain that they will receive an official invitation to write the letter through AdviseStream, that there is a deadline of June 1, and that if they ask 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.

To request letters, you will enter your letter writer names along with their complete contact information (title, employer, work email, work address, work phone number, and relationship to you) on AdviseStream and then AdviseStream will send an official request to them for a letter.  Your letter writers do not need to be associated with Duke University, but they will need to set up an account with AdviseStream so they can upload their letter.  Alternatively, a letter writer can also email their letter to the HPA Office (prehealth@duke.edu).  The HPA Office will receive your letters through AdviseStream.  If your letter writers have questions or concerns regarding AdviseStream please direct them to the HPA Office.

Follow up with the writer:  You will be able to check the submission of letters on AdviseStream.  After your letter writer has written and submitted their letter, follow up with an email thanking them for writing.  If it is close to the June 1 deadline and a letter has not been written, you can send a gentle reminder through Advisestream.

To have the HPA Office release your letters:  Check on Advisestream to be sure that all of your individual letters of recommendation have been submitted.  After you have submitted your application and it has been verified by the application service, email a PDF of your verified primary to prehealth@duke.edu .  The HPA Office will then compile a packet of your letters and release it to the application service(s) within 10 business days of receiving all required information.  If we have written a Committee Letter for you, that letter will be included in the packet.

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.  Alternatively, if necessary, you can ask the recommender to send a letter to the HPA Office early and we will retain it for you.  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.  The first option is usually the most useful, as an up-to-date letter can be the most comprehensive and meaningful. 

Note that we are only able to send letters as a packet and only to application services.  We are not able to customize letters for individual schools, nor can we transmit your letters or any evaluation being held in your file to any other destination.  We will customize packets for AACOMAS versus AMCAS.

Submitting letters directly to the application services:   If you have graduated and have been away from Duke for several years, you may choose to have your letters of recommendation sent directly to the application services.  Check their websites for information and directions.

Committee Letter from the HPA Office

If you are a rising senior or have just graduated and you are applying to medical or dental schools (these usually expect a Committee Letter), you will ask the HPA Office to write a Committee Letter 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 been away from Duke for several years and/or 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. 

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.  You need to request a Committee Letter by May 1 and complete your RMA appointment by June 1.  The request, scheduling and uploading of your RMA form is done through the "Apply" section on Advisestream.

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)