It’s very common for premed students to apply to medical school after a break from undergrad. Maybe you are reapplying after improving your application. Maybe you are simply taking a gap year.
Either way, a common issue with applying to med school years after undergrad is old letters of recommendation.
I personally had this issue when I applied to med school the second time (More on that in this article) so this concern resonates with me.
In this article we will discuss:
- How old letters of recommendation for med school can be
- The AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS’s position on old letters
- What you can do if your letters of recommendation are too old
How Old Can Letters Of Recommendation Be For Medical School?
There isn’t a technical requirement for how old letters of recommendation (Or LORs) can be for medical school. That being said, LORs should be recent enough to accurately reflect an applicant’s current abilities and accomplishments. The general rule of thumb is that LORs should be no more than two years old, but this can vary depending on the school.
However, there are a lot of nuances to what’s an acceptable age for a med school LOR.
If an applicant has been out of school for a longer period of time, it may be acceptable to submit letters of recommendation that are older than two years. But keep in mind, it’s important to choose letters that are still relevant and that speak to the applicant’s current abilities and potential for success in the medical field.
Does The AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS Have Specific Letter Of Recommendation Requirements?
No, the AMCAS, AACOMAS, and TMDSAS do not have a specific letter of recommendation requirement. These application services can’t dictate what LOR you need because medical schools individually have requirements and recommendations on LORs.
Med schools differ significantly when it comes to LORs. It’s important you research schools individually to see which ones will work better for your old LOR situation.
For example, let’s say that you have 2 LORs from professors. One LOR is old and the other is recent. Med school “A” requires 2 LOR from professors but med school “B” only requires 1 LOR from a professor and another can be from a previous employer/supervisor.
If you have been employed or part of a volunteer organization recently and can easily obtain a good quality LOR, then med school “B” will be more accepting of your situation.
Pro tip: Reach out via phone call or email to potential medical schools about your specific situation with an old letter of recommendation and see what they recommend!
What You Should Do When You Have Old Letters Of Recommendation For Med School
If you have old letters of recommendation for medical school, there are a few steps you can take to determine whether they are still appropriate to submit:
- Review the application requirements for each school: Check the application requirements for each medical school to which you are applying to see if they have any specific guidelines or restrictions on the age of letters of recommendation. Some schools may have a maximum age limit for letters of recommendation, while others may not. Plus, they may have different requirements for the source of your letters giving you the opportunity to rearrange which ones get submitted.
- Evaluate the relevance of the letters: Consider how relevant the letters are to your current application. If the letters were written more than two years ago, think about whether they still accurately reflect your abilities and potential as a medical student. You might be doing yourself a disservice by submitting a letter that doesn’t match your true potential.
- Update the letter: If you think an old letter of recommendation is not relevant anymore, you can reach out to the writer to ask if they would be willing to update or rewrite the letter. Share what you have accomplished since your last letter of recommendation so they can write you a strong letter of recommendation. Also, ensure you give plenty of notice since this process can take a while for professors!
- Consider adding new letters of recommendation: Have you had interactions with professors or physicians more recently? It might be a good idea to get some new letters of recommendation and forget the old ones. Don’t forget to check out specific school requirements to see what sources you can utilize for those letters.
Don’t Replace High Quality Older Letter Of Recommendation With Mediocre New Ones
I want to end this article with this thought, don’t replace higher-quality old letters with mediocre new ones.
The most important factor when choosing letters of recommendation is to select individuals who can provide meaningful and specific insights into your abilities and potential as a medical student and future physician. You want to choose individuals who know you well and can provide examples of your academic abilities, work ethic, interpersonal skills, and other qualities that are important for success in the medical field.
You don’t want letters from professors, doctors, or bosses who had little contact with you. They may say some kind words out of obligation, but they won’t be able to properly write about your strengths.
If you are choosing between an old letter and a mediocre letter, you should seriously consider just reaching back out to whoever wrote that original letter for an updated copy.
An Example From My Personal Experience
Here’s an example from my own experience with letters of recommendation. I used my original academic advisor from college. He was with me every step of the way when I was struggling to improve my grades. Therefore, he was able to write me a great letter of recommendation for med school.
But I eventually had to reapply to med school several years later and that letter became pretty old.
A simple email to this professor with a list of things I accomplished since the previous letter, and asking him for an update, was all it took to have a great letter of recommendation that was relevant.
If your struggling because you feel that your med school letter of recommendation is old, don’t be afraid to reach out for an updated copy.