What Premed Students Should Know About the Committee Letter for Medical School

Find out what a committee letter is and whether you need one in the medical school application process.

U.S. News & World Report

Medical School Committee Letters

Stand up woman holding white folded a4 paper and brown envelope

A medical school committee letter can help you efficiently gather recommendations from your professors and others.(GETTY IMAGES)

MANY ESTABLISHED colleges and universities with long-standing premedical programs provide a committee letter that can be sent to all the medical schools to which an applicant is applying.

Generally, the premed adviser oversees the letter’s completion, which is why it’s so important to establish a good rapport with your adviser starting in your freshman year. You can then ask to meet with your adviser annually to update them on your academic progress and future plans, and to ask for suggestions about planning for the upcoming years. 

Here’s what premed students should know about the committee letter for medical school.

Are Committee Letters Necessary?

Some medical schools may strongly prefer a committee letter, but they are unlikely to reject an application because a letter is not available. In fact, many colleges and universities do not offer a committee letter on behalf of their applicants.

If that’s the case at your undergraduate school, you will need to request individual recommendation letters from five or more faculty members. The benefit of this approach is that you can hand-select the authors of your letters.

Keep in mind that a few med schools might request an individual recommendation letter from a research supervisor in addition to the standard committee letter provided by the school.

Advantages to Having a Committee Letter

One of the biggest advantages to having a committee letter is that your premed adviser helps to get recommendations from your various professors and others in a timely fashion. The adviser, more than you, will generally have greater success in getting faculty members to respond promptly.

Another advantage is that your adviser can construct the letter in a way that he or she believes will be most helpful to you in achieving admission to medical school. The adviser can help you throughout the application process, perhaps even helping to rewrite the description of your experiences to present you in the best light possible. After all, this is the adviser’s job and what he or she has been trained to do.

What a Committee Letter Looks Like

Each school has its own way of constructing the committee letter. Some may have the applicant submit names of eight to 12 people, including various professors in required science courses, research supervisors, volunteer activity coordinators, coaches and others with whom they have worked. These individuals will be asked to complete forms or write letters about the applicant, commenting on the applicant’s performance, and then submit them to the adviser.

If there is a form or scorecard with various categories, such as work ethic and communication skills, the committee letter is likely to include it. Examples of scorecard questions include: Will this applicant initiate projects? Does this applicant work well with teammates? Has this applicant helped others with their learning?

Typically, one or more advisers will distill the information from the written responses and extract key quotes for various categories they wish to include in the committee letter.

Each of the letters from individual professors and others might be represented by several lines or quotes in the committee letter. Rather than having access to all the letters, the medical school admissions committee would receive only the committee letter. However, more undergraduate schools are attaching the entire batch of letters at the end of the committee letter in case the screener wants to review them in their entirety.

Some undergraduate schools ask the applicant to meet with several advisers, rather than only one, before the committee letter is constructed. In this case, all the advisers work on and sign the letter.

Some committee letters begin with a description of the university’s past track record with getting applicants accepted to medical school. The letter might begin by describing various tiers of applicants, from the top tier of students they recommend most highly (and from which almost all will be accepted) to the lowest tier that they recommend or recommend with reservation.

You certainly do not want to be included in the bottom tier, if at all possible. Admissions committees are adept at reading through the tiers to determine which students are likely to be accepted.

Committee Letter vs. Letter of Recommendation

Because a committee letter represents many opinions about a student’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses, it is generally perceived to be somewhat more objective than a letter of recommendation.

This notion, however, is debatable because the objectivity of the letter depends on the way it is written and by whom. For example, your adviser may choose to interpret some critical comments in a softer, more positive way.

In contrast, a letter of recommendation is submitted by a person who has a positive relationship with and who supports the student. Generally a letter is written and submitted by one person, but occasionally one person may write the letter and a second person will sign it.

For example, if you request a letter from a famous but very busy professor, he or she likely won’t have the time to write the recommendation. Thus, the task is assigned to a postdoc who is familiar with you and may even know you better than the professor does. The postdoc writes the letter and both sign it.

You may feel that a letter from a famous professor is advantageous, but getting a letter of recommendation from an assistant or associate professor who knows you extremely well usually is preferable because that person can speak to particulars. Remember to be careful about whom you choose to write your letters of recommendation because the content cannot be reviewed or altered.

Advice for Applicants at Various Stages

If you are a college freshman, you should have already met your premed adviser. If you have not, now is a good time to do so – and keep working on that relationship until you apply for med school.

If you are a student who has only recently decided to pursue medicine, seek out the premed adviser at your university and begin working with him or her to determine if you will have a committee letter. You may need to begin selecting professors who will write recommendation letters for you.

Finally, if you postponed applying to medical school until some years after completing your undergraduate studies, you may request letters of recommendation from appropriate individuals. In a few cases, I have seen committee letters from the original school of graduation based on current and past information from the applicant and professors. Have a discussion with the premed advisory team at your undergraduate school to determine which option is more appropriate.

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