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.  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 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 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.

Formal request:  You will want to formally request Letters of Recommendation in the spring 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 HPA handout "Instructions & Tips for Letter Writers".  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.

              Instructions & Tips for Letter Writers (click to download)

Submit names in May:  AMCAS Applications open around May 1.  At that time, you can begin to fill out the application and can list the names of your letter writers.  Each will be assigned a Letter ID, an 8-digit number assigned to their letter.  Contact your letter writers again and give them your AAMC ID number (the 8 digit identification number assigned to you) and their Letter ID (the 8 digit identification number assigned to their letter).  They can then access the application service, enter the two numbers, and submit their letter directly.  Or alternatively, they can mail their Letter of Recommendation.  You will be able to indicate on your application which Letter(s) of Recommendation go to which medical school(s).  Please check the websites of AMCAS, TMDSAS and/or AACOMAS for directions.   If you haven't already done so (or wish to do so again), provide your letter writer with the HPA Handout above "Instructions & Tips for Letter Writers".

We recommend that all Letters of Recommendation be submitted by June 1.  However, if your writer is unable to submit by that date, some delay is 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.

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. 

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) 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. 

Old Letters of Recommendation:  The HPA office no longer collects or submits Letters of Recommendation. 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.  

How to Request a Committee Letter from the HPA Office    

The Committee Letter is a concise summary of your undergraduate 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 or useful.

To have us write a Duke Committee Letter for you, fill out the qualtrics Intent to Apply Form, complete the RMA (Review My Application) form, and schedule an RMA meeting.  After your application has been verified, send a copy of your verified application to prehealth@duke.edu and we will submit a Committee Letter for you within 10 business days.  Please see our Applying Summer 2019 & Matriculating 2020 page for details.

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. 

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)