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Health Sciences Advising Letter Service

Portland State offers a Health Sciences Advising (HSA) Letter service for pre-dental and pre-medical (MD/DO) students. The goal of the HSA Letter Service is to help students better prepare for their application cycle by working with their adviser, preparing their materials, attending relevant events, and collecting letters of evaluation in advance. A defining feature of the letter itself is the provision of a holistic, evaluative view of you as the applicant. The Health Sciences Advising Letter that PSU provides to medical schools includes 1) a cover letter that includes your ratings from the Advising team, supported by prose written by your adviser, and 2) copies of all individual academic and non-academic letters of evaluation. Medical schools consider the Advising 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 describes the categories on which applicants are evaluated (academic preparation, clinical exposure, extracurricular/research/service activities, as well as highlighting intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies defined by the AAMC, where possible) 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 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 Advising team's evaluation of you. The team will evaluate you based on the materials you submit for your Health Sciences Advising (HSA) letter file. Your file includes the letters of evaluation submitted to your CLAS Advising Center-affiliated Interfolio account on your behalf as well as all materials you submit to our office, 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.


As part of the Health Sciences Advising (HSA) Letter Service, you will be evaluated on the following categories:

  • Academic Accomplishment
  • Clinical Exposure (Healthcare-Related Experience & Service)
  • Extracurricular, Research, & Service Activities
  • Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Competencies (identified by the AAMC, at the link listed above), when possible 

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). 

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 Health Sciences Advising 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 Interfolio system linked to our office. Detailed instructions for using Interfolio and requesting letters are provided at Instructions for collecting letters of evaluation. Note that this Health Sciences Advising-affiliated Interfolio account is available for any pre-medical student at PSU, regardless of whether you will be utilizing the HSA Letter 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.
  • 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.  You can also include these documents in the Interfolio letter request that you send electronically from your account. 
  • 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 Letter Service, read the packet linked below:

HSA Letter Service Packet for Students Applying to Medical School (PDF)


In addition to the packet linked above, students who are utilizing the Health Sciences Advising Letter Service for the upcoming 2017-2018 application service will utilize the following additional forms (described in the packet above):

  1. Health Sciences Advising Letter Request form
  2. Work & Activities and Personal Statement guide
  3. GPA grid. (You will need the AMCAS GPA calculator to complete this grid.)
  4. Instructions for collecting letters of evaluation