You can add letters of recommendation after submitting your AMCAS application; in fact, this is one of only 3 sections in the AMCAS application that can be modified after submission. However, this doesn't mean that you can or should wait until the last minute to secure letters of recommendation. Writing such evaluations is a lot of time-consuming work, so be sure to get started early, contacting potential referees and making your intentions known!

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This is a very common question, as letters of recommendation are a critical part of the medical school application. However, securing such letters prior to the initial AMCAS application due date can be difficult. The good news is that the letters of recommendation section of the AMCAS application is one of the few sections that can be  modified after submission (along with your contact information and list of schools). Logging back into your application will allow you to request additional letters of recommendation. 

In general, letters of recommendation are considered part of the secondary application and are thus due with those secondary materials. In most cases, this would be July in the year you apply, at the earliest. The primary due date and materials submitted at that time are necessary to verify the information you provide in the application. Letters of recommendation, on the other hand, are more like supplemental materials, and are not necessary for verifying your application. So, you can submit your application prior to or on the due date even if your letters of recommendation haven’t yet been received by AMCAS.

Check out our video answering the question, "Can you add letters of recommendation after submitting AMCAS?"

In fact, most medical schools review every other aspect of your application first, saving the letters of recommendation for last. They need to confirm that you meet admissions requirements, evaluate your overall application – scores, service, work, etc. – and then take into consideration what your evaluators have to say about you. It is very rare for an admissions committee to read letters of recommendation as part of the initial screening process whereby they determine which applicants receive a secondary application. Not all schools screen before sending secondary applications, but those that do screen tend to evaluate your GPA, MCAT scores, and your primary application materials before deciding whether or not to send a secondary application. Letters of recommendation aren’t usually a deciding factor at this stage.

Once your application is verified, your application materials and letters of recommendation will be made available to your chosen schools. If there are letters of recommendation that show up after this, they will be forwarded to schools on a rolling basis.

A word of caution...

None of this means that you can or should wait until the last possible second to request letters of recommendation. If you want strong letters, then you must give your letter writers ample time to compose their evaluation. Writing letters of recommendation isn’t – or, shouldn’t be – a quick and easy exercise. A strong letter writer will pore over the work you’ve submitted to them, think carefully about their interactions with you and their overall impression of you, offer detailed accounts of projects you’ve done together, demonstrate ways in which you represent the key qualities and competencies desired in your chosen profession, and so on. This takes time, and a request for a letter of recommendation that arrives 5 days before the due date is unlikely to be met with such a nuanced response.

This is not only a time-consuming project, it’s also a lot of work – remember, you’re asking for a favour in making this request. Those people with or for whom you’ve worked are under no formal obligation to write letters of recommendation. Ideally, you’ll be asking people who are genuinely excited about your work and who are interested in seeing you advance, but even those who know you and your work well need time to organize that information and transform it into a compelling letter of recommendation. So, at the bare minimum, you need to give your letter writers at least 2 weeks' notice, though more advanced notice than this is preferable. Generally, a 1-month period will be sufficient for them to fit such an exercise into their schedules, so if you’re applying in June, ask for letters no later than May 1.

It’s worth noting that you will also need time to select the best recommendation letter writers for the field you’re entering. These need to be people who know you well, at least on a professional level, who are familiar with your work and aspirations, and who are connected enough to the field you’re pursuing to speak of your assets and traits in the context of that profession. So, you should be thinking of such things well in advance, and reaching out to potential letter writers quite early, so that they know you are considering making such a request in the future. Doing all of this will help you gather letters that are as effective as possible.

So, the short answer to the question, "Can you add letters of recommendation after submitting AMCAS?" is “Yes!” However, the question is a bit more complicated than that, and there are a lot of things to consider as you’re looking for and reaching out to potential letter writers. While you do have a bit more time, you need to be strategic in how that time is utilized.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

Image credit: Dean Strelau, via the Creative Commons License:

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