Health Sciences Advising Committee Letter Service
Portland State offers a Health Sciences Advising Committee Letter service for pre-dental and pre-medical (MD/DO) students only. Many medical schools prefer that evaluations be provided in the form of a Committee Letter if such a service is available at an applicant's undergraduate institution. The exact format of a Committee Letter varies by institution but a defining feature is the provision of a holistic, evaluative view of you as the applicant. The Health Sciences Advising Committee Letter that PSU provides to medical schools includes 1) a cover letter that includes your Committee ratings, supported by prose written by your adviser, and 2) copies of all individual academic and non-academic letters of evaluation. Medical schools consider the Committee Letter to be one letter even though they know it is a package of multiple letters.
The Cover Letter
The cover letter is written by your pre-medical adviser. It starts out with an introduction that specifies whom the Committee Letter is for (you) and includes your AMCAS or AACOMAS ID number. It describes the three categories on which applicants are evaluated and the rating system that is used. It also includes a bulleted list of the academic and non-academic letter writers whose individual letters are attached. Then, the letter reports your ratings in the three categories and explains why you received those ratings. The cover letter essentially provides a holistic view of who you are as an applicant and is based on the following:
- The adviser/advisee relationship. Ideally you have been visiting your adviser periodically and she has gotten to know you over time, allowing her to shed light on your personal characteristics and “story,” which medical schools appreciate.
- The Committee’s evaluation of you. The Committee will evaluate you based on the contents of your Health Sciences Advising Committee (HSAC) letter file. Your file includes the letters of evaluation submitted to the CLAS Advising Center on your behalf as well as all materials you submit to the Committee such as a draft of your personal statement and a list of your relevant activities with descriptions.
- Academic and non-academic letters submitted on your behalf. The adviser may highlight key themes and/or quotes from your individual letters in the cover letter.
The Committee Evaluation
The Health Sciences Advising Committee (HSAC) is comprised of the pre-medical advisers and approximately four teaching faculty from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The Committee reviews the contents of your HSAC file and evaluates you on the following categories:
- Academic Accomplishment
- Clinical Exposure (Healthcare-Related Experience & Service)
- Extracurricular, Research, & Service Activities
Applicants are assigned a rating of minimal, moderate, substantial, or exceptional for each of the categories above. Your ratings are embedded into the cover letter that is written by your pre-medical adviser and as such are confidential. You are rated separately in each of the categories. This is to encourage holistic evaluation of you as a medical school candidate and to illustrate where your strengths are. This format also accounts for the fact that each medical school is different and may value one category over another (for example, some medical schools are more clinically focused and some are more research focused). This Committee Letter format is modeled after the format used by Johns Hopkins University.
Who Should Write the Letters
Medical schools expect letters of evaluation from both academic and non-academic evaluators, and both types of letters will be included in your Committee Letter package.
Non-academic evaluators are individuals such as work, volunteering, and research supervisors; physicians you have shadowed; and extracurricular and/or leadership activity advisers. Character references (letters from family friends, etc. with whom you have not worked, volunteered, or shadowed) will not be accepted.
Academic evaluators are instructors from whom you have taken a class. You may collect letters from other postsecondary institutions you have attended, but at least two of your academic letters must be from PSU faculty. The only exception is for postbaccalaureate pre-med students who did not earn their bachelor’s degree at PSU; these students can collect at least two academic letters, with at least one being from PSU (it is still ideal, however, for postbac students to have two letters from PSU faculty and one letter from their undergraduate institution).
Use the following as a framework for collecting letters:
- Two letters from science faculty
- One to two letters from non-science faculty
- Three letters from non-academic evaluators
Evaluators submit their letters electronically to the CLAS Advising Center via the veCollect system. You must register for veCollect before you begin to request letters. Get instructions for doing so in the CLAS Advising Center (M305 SMSU). Note that veCollect is only for students utilizing the Committee Letter service; it is not a general letter collection service.
How & When to Request Letters
- Request letters when the evaluator’s experience with you is fresh. For example, if you complete a course with an instructor from whom you wish to request a letter, and you don’t expect to take another course from him or her in the future, ask for the letter right after the course ends rather than waiting until months or years later.
- Ask for the letter in person. It is the polite thing to do, and instructors in particular may know you by your face more so than by your name.
- Provide plenty of time for the evaluator to write the letter. It is recommended that you give evaluators one to two months and offer to send a friendly reminder email at the halfway mark.
- Be sure to provide the evaluator with the Letter Request form from the CLAS Advising Center. This explains what the letter should address and tells them about the veCollect electronic letter submission process.
Academic Letter Request Form
Non-Academic Letter Request Form
- Provide background materials such as a draft of your personal statement and résumé (you might hear instructors referring to this as a “CV”) and offer to schedule an appointment with the evaluator to discuss your background, goals, etc. Not all evaluators prefer to utilize background materials and not all wish to “interview” you, but it is okay to offer these things.
- Send a thank you note to your evaluators after they have submitted a letter on your behalf to express your appreciation.
To learn more about the Health Sciences Advising Committee Letter Service, read the packet linked below: