The medical school admissions process seeks to determine whether an applicant possesses the academic ability to succeed in medical school. For this reason, substantial weight is placed on the recommendations of an applicant's instructors. Most medical schools expect several references from science faculty; some ask that these be distributed across the premedical science curriculum.
A student's file must contain at least two letters of recommendation from Columbia science faculty under whom the student has studied. Without these, a student will not be eligible for committee support. We strongly recommend that students request at least three letters to decrease the likelihood of a delay if one is not received on time.
Some faculty members have specific requirements for recommendation letters. They may require students to have earned a minimum grade or to submit a resume. Students should identify these requirements early so they know what is expected.
Columbia Science Faculty
Perhaps the most frequent concern premeds have about obtaining letters from Columbia science faculty is that the size of the science lectures doesn't allow for meaningful face-to-face interaction with instructors. While sometimes students may be able to overcome this barrier by visiting the faculty's office hours, it may not always be possible, and it is probably not in their best interest to go to unnatural lengths, to get to know their instructors. It is sufficient if letters from science faculty simply speak to the rigor of the course and explain a student's rank in the class; whenever possible, some faculty will also include personal observations of the applicant. Other letters in applicants' files will attest to their social skills, service orientation, and other interpersonal qualities.
Undergraduate and Graduate School Faculty
An ideal letter from an undergraduate instructor would come from someone with whom the student took more than one course, or under whom the student completed a major research project or a senior thesis. Such a letter is likely to speak to the student's work ethic, class participation, degree of engagement with the subject matter, and skill in communication and critical thinking.
Additionally, students who attended a graduate or professional program should request at least one letter from a faculty member with whom they studied.
Students who have not been in contact with instructors from previous schools may want to refresh their instructors' memories with a letter, a resume, a photo, a copy of a paper completed for their class and/or, if feasible, a personal visit.