The internal application system is the primary way letters of recommendation are collected and filed for inclusion in committee letters. When students establish an internal application account, they will be prompted to provide the name and contact information for one or more letters of recommendation. Doing so will trigger an automated e-mail that will be sent to referees with individualized links through which they can upload their letters. The e-mail will indicate the basis of the student's relationship with the referee. For example, a request for a letter from a student's general chemistry lab instructor would indicate that the student took CHEM UN1500 and in what semester and year she or he did so. Finally, the e-maill will also indicate whether or not the student waived their right to see the letter.
Students should personally ask referees for recommendaiton letters before entering their contact information in the internal application, so that they won't be surprised when the receive the automated e-mail.
It is also possible for referees to send recommendation letters by US Mail or by e-mail. Mailing instructions are printed on the Recommendation Letter Waiver form students must complete and give to each of referee.
- Recommendations should be word-processed, printed on the referee's institutional letterhead, dated, and signed. Unsigned letters will be returned to their authors.
- Recommendation letters should be addressed generically (“To the Admissions Committee”), rather than to an advisor or a specific medical school. Students should be especially clear on this point with referees outside Columbia, who sometimes confuse being a premedical student here with applying to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Letters of recommendation addressed to the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons will be returned to referees for correction.
- It is important that referees mention in their letters that they are writing specifically in support of the applicant's candidacy for admission to medical school. Medical schools want to know that, when a letter was composed, the writer understood exactly for what purpose their support was being solicited. That said, referees need not feel obliged to judge the applicant's potential either for medical study or for professional success in medicine. It is sufficient for them to say simply what work the student did for them and how well they did it, and that it is on that basis they are recommending them for admission. Of course, if the student's referees are able to add further information, admissions committees will be happy to have it.
- If applicable, forward dossiers held at other institutions to the Premedical Office. If the letters in the dossier were not originally written for medical school applications, the student must ask their referees to write new letters specifically mentioning that they are recommending the student for medical school.
- Though not required, students should thank those who write letters of recommendation. With as little delay as possible, students should send a brief, handwritten note on good quality stationery.
- Prospective referees can find more information about writing recommendation letters for medical school applicants on the AAMC website.