Reapplicant Letters of Recommendation—Do You Need New Letters?


What makes reapplicant letters of recommendation different? Do you need new evaluation letters as a reapplicant? How do you ensure your letters are strong enough to secure you an acceptance the second time you apply?

Being in the position of having to reapply to medical school is obviously less than ideal. Naturally, this wasn’t the outcome you hoped for, but now it’s your new reality. To successfully apply a second time around, you must meticulously assess every aspect of your application to determine what needs to change and where you should focus your efforts.

In this post, we’ll focus on what admissions committees are looking for from your letters of recommendation. We’ll cover whether or not you need updated letters, how to assess your previous application, and tips to ensure your letters of recommendation, as well as all aspects of your application, help secure you an acceptance.

When you’re done with this read, check out our other reapplicant guides: 6 Steps to Reapplying to Medical School and 9 Reapplicant Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make.


How to Assess Your Unsuccessful Application

First and foremost, once you know you’ll need to reapply to medical school, you must thoroughly assess your first application to determine what went wrong. You may already have a pretty good idea, or this may take some digging.

Low hard metrics like your GPA or MCAT score or lack of experience are easy to pinpoint. However, your letters of recommendation are difficult to assess because, generally speaking, you do not have a chance to see them. If you’re having trouble pinpointing a weak area of your application, it could be a poor or even bland letter.

Take a deep dive into every component of your application, including secondaries and interviews, if you made it that far.

For example, if you received a number of interviews but no acceptances, it was very likely your interview performance that hindered your success. If you did not receive secondaries from most of the schools you applied to, this indicates that your application did not meet minimum requirements, such as your MCAT or GPA, or that another component was significantly lacking.

It can be difficult to objectively assess your own application; after all, you submitted it and likely thought you would be accepted. If you’re looking for an outside opinion, the physician advisors at Med School Insiders can help.


Do You Need New Letters of Recommendation as a Reapplicant?

After assessing your application, it’s time to decide whether or not you need to replace any or all of your letters.

Admissions committees expect each of your letters to be not only glowing, but also filled with persuasive and specific details of your personality and performance. They should be able to tell immediately from the letter that the writer knows you well and thinks very highly of you.

1 | Unsure of Letter Strength

Being unsure of your letters is a sign they aren’t good enough. If you’re not sure how strong one or more of your letters are, replace them with a new letter, either from the same writer or someone else.

For example, let’s say your physics professor wrote one of your science letters, but you took his class two years ago and have not kept up the relationship. This likely means the letter was quite generic, so you’ll want to ask a professor from a more recent science class instead—one who knows you well and who you have a strong rapport with.

Think back to when you asked your writers for a letter. Was anyone disinterested or hesitant? If they hesitated when you asked them or showed any sign of apprehension, it may point to a lower quality letter. They may not have felt they knew you well enough, they may not have had the time to write a detailed letter, or they may not have thought very highly of your skills.

2 | Update New Experiences

If you’ve recently become involved with a meaningful new activity and have cultivated a relationship with a mentor who can speak to your skills, this is another excellent opportunity to add a new letter of recommendation to your application.

If you still work regularly with a previous letter writer, it’s a good idea to request an update. For example, say you’ve continued to work hard in a lab for the past 2 years and have recently added two new publications and a presentation. A new, strong letter from your PI addressing your continued commitment and recent accomplishments would definitely help your chances.

3 | Find Completely New Letter Writers

You may realize upon reflection that many of your letters could have been bland due to weak relationships. In this case, you have your work cut out for you. Strong letters of recommendation come from strong relationships, and these take months and even years to build.

Keep in mind that it’s much more important to choose letter writers who know you well, as opposed to a big name in the industry. If they can’t speak to your specific strengths, the most well-known physician in the world will still write a lackluster letter of recommendation. If you haven’t spent notable time with the potential writer and they don’t know you well, don’t bother with the prestigious name.

Learn more: How to Choose Medical School Letters of Recommendation Writers.

Finding new letter writers may take quite a bit of time if you don’t already have a list of strong relationships to pull from. Next, we’ll cover some strategies for acquiring letters from new writers.


How to Find New Letter Writers (If You Need Them)

1. Reflect on Your Connections

First, look to the pool of connections you already have. Are there any strong connections you did not ask previously? You may have mistakenly pursued more prestigious names, the connection may have been busy at the time, or the relationship may have developed since you requested your initial letters.

While professors and physicians with medical experience are ideal, your best letter may come from someone outside of medicine.

For example, if you’ve spent years volunteering at a community center, your supervisor would be able to speak to your dedication to the community, as well as how you have progressed and developed over the years. Or you may have a coach or instructor from a hobby outside of medicine who knows you on a deeper level than your newer medical industry connections.

Think back on your various different classes. Are there any professors who know you well who you didn’t think to ask for your first application? Consider all of your various extracurricular activities and anyone you have worked closely with. This includes research, clinical experience, volunteering, employment (inside and outside of medicine), clubs, and hobbies. You’ll need to think outside the box at this point, as time is limited.

Do you have strong options to choose from, or do you need to begin building stronger relationships? This is why it’s so vital to build and maintain connections throughout undergrad, both at school and in the community at large through your extracurricular experiences.

2. Build New Relationships

Building relationships for new letters is no small feat, especially given the small turnaround time of reapplying.

Unfortunately, if it was your Work and Activities section and/or your letters that hindered your application, you may not be able to apply in the next application cycle. By the time you find out you were not accepted, you’ll have months at most to submit your new application by July or August—which is the absolute latest we recommend applying.

The sooner you submit your application, the better your chances of acceptance. Learn more: How Late Can You Submit Your Primary Application? (Without Consequence).

Although this may be disappointing news, this is the reality of being a reapplicant. Rushing into your second application puts you at risk of being rejected a second time.

To build new relationships, you’ll need to begin putting yourself out there and dedicating time toward extracurricular activities as soon as possible. Unless you decided to take extra classes after finding out you were not accepted, you likely won’t be able to develop new relationships with professors.

Given your limited time, you’ll need to make smart, targeted decisions about the extracurriculars you pursue. Gaining research experience will certainly boost your application, but if you need another letter, you’ll have to seek out a lab where you’ll be able to work closely with the Principal Investigator.

Volunteering is another great way to bolster your application while building relationships but look for opportunities that will allow you to build relationships with supervisors. This may mean seeking out smaller, more tight knit organizations.


Don’t Take Any Chances as a Reapplicant

Bottom line—not all reapplicants need to replace their letters of recommendation. It completely depends on the strength of your first letters. Don’t replace them automatically without first considering whether or not your letters were a problem and if you’re in a position to get stronger letters for your next application.

As a reapplicant, you can’t take any chances the second time around. The absolute last thing you want is to end up in the same place with another set of rejections 1-2 years later. And that is what will happen if you don’t make significant, targeted changes to your application.

The team at Med School Insiders has served on admissions committees at top medical schools, and we specialize in helping reapplicants win acceptance. We’ve meticulously designed proprietary systems to achieve one single purpose—getting you into medical school.

Each physician advisor on our team passed our exceedingly rigorous 5 step application process and has excelled in their own careers as doctors. We can help you land an acceptance at the med school of your dreams—our results speak for themselves.

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