Letters of Recommendation
Your recommendation letter is a great opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you and what makes you unique beyond your GPA and aptitude test score. The ultimate goal is to tell the admissions committee something they don’t know about you from your transcript.
For medical, dental and podiatric programs, the Center for Pre-Professional Advising has a professional letter file service that can help when it comes to disseminating the letters to the schools you’re applying to. If you open a professional file in the Center for Pre-Professional Advising, we will handle all of your evaluation/recommendation letters for you. Packets to start your file are available in the office in Young Hall 4th floor.
One note about professional files: Your letters can be used only for the purpose for which you collected them. If you placed letters in your file to be sent to medical schools and you later decide to apply to public health programs, we cannot use them in this manner for a couple of reasons. First, these letters will not help you as much as having letters directed at that type of program, and second, faculty wrote letters to be used for a particular purpose. Any use of these letters for another purpose is not allowed.
Asking for Letters of Recommendation
Some programs refer to letters as evaluation letters rather than recommendation letters. They want an honest portrait of you as a person and scholar, so they expect to see things you need to work on as well as things you are already good at. Different programs may ask for different kinds of letters. Be sure to check with the schools you are applying to make sure you have what you need.
Generally speaking, medical and dental programs need two science faculty letters and one non-science faculty letter plus any others you wish to use (no more than six total for medical schools and four for dental schools). The tricky part is defining science/non-science. At IU School of Medicine, they prefer that one of your letters be from science faculty who taught your classes that can be designated as biology, physics or chemistry. All others are considered non-science. Other schools don't define this quite so clearly. You may need to check with schools to which you wish to apply to make sure you have what you need.
It is important that you select professors to write letters for you who actually know something about you. This is something you should be working on throughout your college career. How can you leave a favorable impression with a professor? You need to go to professors' office hours, ask questions, go to class, be on time, look interested and basically act professionally in your approach to courses. Give faculty a chance to get to know you. You should be working on this throughout your college career.
Tips when asking for a Letter of Recommendation
First and foremost, be courteous. You are making a request that takes considerable time. Professors do not have to write a letter for you.
Ideally, faculty and others writing your letters should be familiar with medical and health care education or legal education, knowledgeable about the qualities that admissions committees are seeking, able to compare you with your peers and well-acquainted with you.
You should request letters two to three months in advance.
When approaching people about writing a letter for you, you should:
- Explain what your plan is.
- Ask: "Do you feel you can write a letter in support of my application?" If you sense any hesitancy, you should discuss this then decide whether to continue with your request.
- "May we set up a time to talk about and review my qualifications?"
- Provide a brief resume and autobiography to the evaluator. These should be typed.
- Follow up to politely verify that letters have been sent. Rather than asking if they have done it, for example, you could ask if they need any more information from you to assist them in writing it.
- Decide whether you will keep your right of access to the letter or waive your access under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws and let your letter writer know your decision. (This is on the forms used by the Center for Pre-Professional Advising office professional file service.) Professional schools may view letters that you have read with a bit of suspicion. Maintaining your access tends to alert the professional schools that you were expecting something negative in the letter. Still, it is your legal right to maintain access so that you can read them and you just need to let the Center for Pre-Professional Advising office and your letter writer know of your decision.
General Letter Requirements
All professional programs require letters of evaluation. However, each school and each program will likely have different requirements for the letters. Check with the programs at which you want to apply to determine exactly what you need.
These letters should provide an accurate assessment of an applicant’s suitability for a particular program rather than advocating for an applicant. Each school and program has different requirements for the types of letters they want (for example, 1-2 science faculty letters). It’s best to check with the schools you are interested in to see which letters they recommend or require.
Most letters are now submitted directly by your letter writers to the Web-based application service for that field. For medical, dental and podiatry students, however, the Center for Pre-Professional Advising offers a letter service and we will submit your letters for you.
- MD: two science faculty, one non-science faculty and possibly a health care, research or volunteer experience letter. Letters generally are submitted electronically by the Center for Pre-Professional Advising office using VirtualEvals to the individual schools. If they are a non-VirtualEvals school, letters will be mailed to them only after they have been requested by those schools. Purdue does not write committee letters or provide health professions advisor letters.
- DO: Same as above with the addition of a letter from a DO Letters distributed as above.
Dentistry: two science faculty, one health care experience, sometimes a non-science faculty. Letters can be submitted electronically to the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) by the Center for Pre-Professional Advising or directly by the letter writer if you do not use our service. Only four letters are allowed through AADSAS.
Optometry: two science faculty, one health care experience. Letters should be submitted directly by the letter writer to OptomCAS as part of your online application.
Veterinary Medicine: two science faculty, one veterinary experience. Letter writers may submit letters directly to the VMCAS system through their eLOR system.
Chiropractic Medicine: Letters required are same as allopathic medicine and should be submitted electronically by your letter writer through ChiroCAS application service.
Podiatry: Letters required are same as allopathic medicine and can be handled by the letter service of the Center for Pre-Professional Advising. Alternatively, they can be submitted directly to AACPMAS by your letter writers.
Pharmacy: two science faculty, one health care experience. For PharmCAS schools, your letters can be sent directly to PharmCAS. For non-PharmCAS schools, request your letters to be sent to each program.
Physician Assistant: two science faculty, one health-care experience. Letters should be submitted electronically to CASPA by your letter writers. For non-CASPA schools, you should have your letters sent directly to your schools.
Physical Therapy: a letter from a physical therapist as well as 2-3 from faculty. Letters should be submitted electronically on PTCAS directly by your letter writers. For non-PTCAS schools, you should have your letters sent directly to your schools.
Occupational Therapy: a letter from an occupational therapist as well as 2-3 from faculty. Letters must be submitted electronically on OTCAS directly by your letter writers. For non-OTCAS schools, you should have your letters sent directly to your schools.
Law School: 2-5 letters are allowed depending on the school. Collect your letters through the Credential Assembly Service which is part of LSAC. Letters may be submitted on paper or electronically. Separate evaluations are required at some schools and may only be submitted electronically.
Other Programs: For more information on professional school evaluation/recommendation letters, please contact us.