Five Tips for Writing an Effective Letter of Recommendation
By Rebecca Johnson, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVAA, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and Keith Poulsen, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Director, Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
Has an aspiring veterinarian asked you to write a letter of recommendation (LOR) for their veterinary school application? Constructing a meaningful LOR can help place a candidate into the next class at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine (UW SVM) or another veterinary medical program.
Each year, candidate applications are reviewed to evaluate both academic and nonacademic factors. LORs are one of the
nonacademic factors and are an important tool for the SVM Admissions Committee. Beginning with the class of 2026, SVM faculty voted to remove the GRE requirement, a step many of the UW SVM’s peer organizations have already taken. Because the GRE will not be used as an objective tool, the Admissions Committee will re-evaluate the decision process concerning candidate admission at UW to continue to build strong veterinary classes and cohorts of future veterinarians. That may place even larger importance on having strong LORs.
Following are five tips for writing an effective LOR, based on the thousands of LORs submitted during the 2025 admissions cycle:
- Invest some time for a meaningful recommendation. You are a busy professional and your time is a commodity. However, spending 45 to 60 minutes evaluating and writing a letter to support a candidate who has undoubtedly dedicated hours to working with you and your practice is encouraged and can make a difference in admissions decisions. It is enlightening to hear about how fantastic the person you are recommending is, but please provide some detail as to why you feel that way. Some reviewers at the UW SVM may know you and recognize the weight behind your words, but those in other veterinary medical programs across the country do not, so details are important.
- Be concise, but complete. Letters should be approximately one page in length. If you go over a page, be sure the information you are including is important. Sentences that use quantifiers such as “Sally is in the top 10 percent of people I have reviewed,” or “Sally is absolutely the best candidate I have worked with,” are particularly helpful. Also, be mindful of the submission deadline. The application system is a national program with strict deadlines.
- Be honest with the candidate. Have a frank conversation with the person asking you for a recommendation to ensure you can write them a strong letter. Weak or lukewarm LORs are detrimental to a candidate’s prospects for success. You may want to sit down with the candidate and discuss what specific qualities or experiences you will include in your letter.
- Match the letter to the rankings. In the Veterinary Medical College Application Service application, there are required numerical rankings of professional abilities as well as a space for writing a personal letter. On occasion, the numerical rankings put forth from a reviewer do not represent what is written in the letter, or vice versa. This is confusing to the Admissions Committee and typically does not help with the candidate’s ranking.
- Advise your mentee on who to solicit letters from. Letters are part of an entire package that tells the candidate’s story about why they would improve the quality and professional veterinary medical training experience of the entire class. Candidates absolutely need at least one letter from a veterinarian and more than one is strongly recommended. Professor and advisor letters are helpful if they have a sincere and authentic message but are not helpful if they solely report what grade the candidate earned in their class or if they attended their advising sessions.
Well-written LORs are important to help any veterinary program’s Admissions Committee choose the best candidates from an already high-level list of qualified people. The goal of the Admission’s Committee is to compile a diverse, professional and exciting class of veterinary students that will grow into excellent veterinary colleagues.