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Committee Letters: Advantages and Disadvantages

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by Excelsius, Dec 31, 2008.

  1. Excelsius

    Excelsius Carpe Noctem
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    Some of our schools don't have premedical committees, as such, we may not know how a committee letter differs from a regular LOR. I am hoping that we can list all the advantages and disadvantages of committee letters to help students surmount problems associated with these letters as well as take advantage of the best aspects, regardless whether they have access to a premedical committee or not. Anyone who has access to premedical committee should post his/her take on this. Or you may not have a committee but have heard about its properties from others. Let's completely disambiguate this system.

    My school doesn't have a committee, but below I am listing some of the things I know about committee letters:

    Advantages (of some or all committees):

    1. Committees can screen LORs and send only the best ones to med schools (but many schools don't do this)
    2. Can notify med schools about your class rank (can be a disadvantage too)
    3. Can relax the limit on the number of LORs you can send since there is only one packet (members like Shemarty were able to send up to about eight LORs because of their committee)
    4. Committees can write better LORs because they know the proper format and know what med schools want to see.
    5. Committees can help build a strong application since they are very knowledgeable - koko_eats
    6. Committees can provide more family background and biographical information than fits in your AMCAS. The committee can point out in the letter that you had a serious problem (death in the immediate family, own health, insane roommate, etc) that resulted in a semester of bad grades but that you bounced back - LizzyM (adcom)
    7. Committees evaluate your probability to succeed in a medical career and include that information in their letter - REL (SDN mentor/adcom)

    Disadvantages:

    1. Committees can be very selective and prevent weaker applicants from applying to med school
    2. A statistically strong applicant can get bad LORs if he/she performs poorly at the committee interview
    3. Committee letters can take forever to go out and cause you to be a "later" applicant than you had hoped - Jolie South
    4. You have to meet with the committee and scheduling an appointment can sometimes be difficult as the opening of AMCAS nears - Jolie South
    5. You might not be able to control how they are sent. If paper, you might not know if they got there or not - Jolie South
    6. If you decide not to use the committee, it might hurt you as schools ask for your reasons - ami1983
     
    #1 Excelsius, Dec 31, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2009
  2. Jolie South

    Jolie South is invoking Domo. . .
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    Disadvantage: Committee letters can take forever to go out and cause you to be a "later" applicant than you had hoped.
    Disadvantage: You have to meet with the committee and scheduling an appointment can sometimes be difficult as the opening of AMCAS nears.
    Disadvantage: You might not be able to control how they are sent. If paper, you might not know if they got there or not.
     
  3. nick_carraway

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    Disadvantages: the first two that Jolie listed

    Advantages: Committees are largely supportive of their students and while I don't miss the fact that I had to travel to interview with the committee and delay my applications, they were helpful before they were phased out by my school. I feel that the committee letter offered good insight into my application and one of my interviewers explicitly said the same.

    In the end, though, I'll take an on-time letter packet to one that contains a committee letter. My alma mater now compiles the letters for applicants to circumvent the requirements of any particular med school, but does not include a committee letter.

    Be careful also when you say that advisors will pick the best letters. They'll often leave all your letters no matter their content. They'll only warn you of blatant errors such as the wrong name or a mispelled name.
     
  4. Excelsius

    Excelsius Carpe Noctem
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    That's I mentioned that only some committees do certain things. For some committees, picking the best letter is the standard. I actually think that if a committee knows that the student is good and if all the letters are strong, it will be more inclined to remove that single vitriolic letter that would bar the student from all med schools. This is also in the interest of the committee as it will boost the med school acceptance rates for its school.
     
  5. ami1983

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    i don't know if this is an advantage or disadvantage, but multiple secondaries I completed asked you to explain why you were not using your undergrad's pre-med committee if one existed. I can't imagine how you could explain why you chose not to without hurting yourself in the process.
     
  6. secants

    secants about:blank
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    My only issue with the Committe Letter is that at my school, there is large Pre-med population so getting an interview and having them write the letter will obviously take time; since timing is very important for apps, I feel they might hinder my applying early.

    Also there is a gigantic packet they make you fill out and it's more detailed than the AMCAS application. But as a whole, most school seem to prefer the letter anyway so it's not like I have a choice.
     
  7. Excelsius

    Excelsius Carpe Noctem
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    I think that's already covered by #3.
     
  8. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers
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    Neutralizing one possible advantage: Many schools will not screen your letters and will even state that every letter is included in its entirety.

    Advantage: the committee can provide more family background and biographical information than fits in your AMCAS. The committee can point out in the letter that you had a serious problem (death in the immediate family, own health, insane roommate, etc) that resulted in a semester of bad grades but that you bounced back.
     
  9. REL

    REL Senior Member
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    Good comments and, from all that I have heard from applicants, these are all true about the system of obtaining a committee letter. But what about the LOR's purpose to the medical program? Which is better to represent you, a committee letter or separate letters? Which do med programs prefer?

    First, I'd like to acknowledge that putting a committee letter together is a lot of work for the premed office. There's the chaos of scheduling meetings, interviews for those who include them, and of course simply sitting down to compose the committee letter, ranking, and other attached items such as graphs, autobiographies, and LOR's. It is a big commitment taking time, manpower, and coordination. There is a schedule to meet and you have to start early to help them get it done. But why do all of this? Is there value? Is it what the med school wants? Is it what you want?

    If the final product represents you in totality: academically, personally, and reflects your true motivations, it is exactly what you and the med program needs. Think of thousands of applicants of which probably 75% can complete the medical school program and the med programs looking for the right mix of applicants for their class of ~120 (this number varies widely). All programs know what type of general student they want based on their perceived and hopefully advertised mission. Most lean heavily toward clincal, research, person, and numbers categories -- each considering these categories with singular emphasis (many programs want NUMBERS, and believe that all else will fall in place), or a varied (sometimes unspoken) formula looking all a mix of all of these categories in a different priority order(numbers-research, or numbers-clincial-personal, or clinical-personal-numbers, etc.).

    Most med programs prefer a comprehensive committee letter from an advisor or committee who knows the applicant. Not only will it include your path of academics, but your other qualities that are harder to find in the basic applications that you will complete for a med program. An honest committee letter will list your strengths AND weaknesses, things you have overcome, your motivations, your goals. Often there is a 2-3 page committee letter that cuminates in a final paragraph written by the committee telling the school where you rank based on past applicants from that program and prognosticating on your chances for success. Many letters have individual LOR's attached from your professors, some have charts/graphs, and an evaluative matrix from your professors regarding personality traits as observed by them. This is all great information if used properly by the medical program. The med program admissions committee sees many premed committee packages and "gets to know" that premed program's system. The admissions committee knows what previous applicants have entered their program from that school and understands how that applicant progressed through the med program. The admissions committee begins to build a level of trust in the integrity of the premed package. If a premed committee ranks everyone "above average" there is little integrity, etc. The premed committee has a big responsibility in both maintaining their integrity with the med admissions committee and also honestly representing you in their assessment. Some applicants are wonderful people with a sincere motivation to be Mother Teresa but may be very unprepared for the academics of med school, others may be very aggressive and lacking tact but will have no problems with the academics of med school. So which gets ranked higher in the premed committee's final analysis? An honest letter will identify each of these applicants for who they are and let the admissions committee decide. Both the premed committees ranking assessment and comments are important to the med admissions committee. Essentially a solid premed committee letter is time consuming, has integrity, and is important to the applicant, premed committee, and admissions committee.

    Individual LOR's are important but often do not add much overall value. Why? In general med programs ask for (?3?) faculty letters and (?1-2?) character/peer type letters if there is no premed committee letter. If done right the individual letters will be from those who know you in the academic or personal setting and will provide information about your performance, values, interactions, and an assessment of your probability of success in a med program (this assumes that the author knows what it takes to complete a med program.) First, more authors have no idea what it takes to complete a med program and have less of an idea what types of students are sought by med programs --- most assume academics are the key component. Second, most individual professor LOR's have little information about the values and interactions of an applicant beyond "always in class," "asked good questions," "and often visited during office hours." Thirdly, who does the applicant request a letter from? All will ask from those who will write "glowing" letters. This means ALL individual letters received for ALL applicants will be superb, rendering all worthless. The poor honest individual professor or friend that includes any hint of a weakness that could be an area of improvement (knowing that no one is perfect) gives you an absolute kiss of death! Since all individual letters are glowing, this honest author with integrity, AND DOING IT RIGHT, unknowingly slaughters you. In a perfect system all individual letters will list strengths/weaknesses, in reality it is rarely seen and is very harmful when found.

    Final gist: There are many components to a med application. Med programs emphasize components differently. LOR's are probably best done in some type of premed committee process where someone in the premed office is a known that has an assumed level of integrity by a med admissions committee. The premed offices that provide a premed committee letter has a huge responsibility that takes time and needs your help to orchestrate properly. The best that you can do is to work closely with your premed office throughout your undergrad experience, know their timelines, and meet your responsibilites to them earlier than their deadlines. Note that there are no absolutes in this process, but there are many assumptions and evaluations. Much is out of the applicant's control. Applicants do control their academics, motivations, etc. By working with the premed office and researching med program requirements and tendencies, some of the mystery can be reduced. Research by using the MSAR, attending premed forums where available, and personal visits to primary programs of interest; the for-profit magazines that rank med programs use seriously flawed data and analysis and are of little real value. Surely they do accomplish one thing --- they certainly do make a profit.

    This was provided to assist you in understanding the general value of the LOR process. There are so many different ways of doing business and so many other components that influence the final decision for admissions committees. I hope that this provides some insight.
     
  10. halekulani

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    qft

    but besides that, i think it's great to have a committee to deal with everything concerning your LORs b/c then you don't have to run to each individual writer if something does come up.
     
  11. nick_carraway

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    REL & LizzyM, thank you for an insider's perspective on committee letters.

    I have some specific questions, though. If a school has been using committee letters for decades, why would they suddenly switch from a committee letter service to a mere letter compiling service?

    REL gave pretty compelling reasons for why the committee letters are helpful so why would it be in an undergrad school's interests to eliminate the service?

    Also, as a reapplicant whose alma mater got rid of the committee letter, will adcoms read the old committee letter in my file or will they have the time & energy to only read the new packet?
     
  12. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers
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    The letters are very time consuming. I knew one pre-med advisor (now retired) who wrote over 100 letters of 2-3 pages in length each summer. Granted, they were formulaic (which was comforting, you knew what you would find and where it would be) but they required hours of preparation.

    An undergrad school may believe that a letter service (copying & sending out packets upon request) is more cost effective than the employing a member of the professional staff to interview applicants, review files, consult with others and compose letters.

    If your undergrad school has your old letter on file and you request that it be sent, the adcom is likely to read it. I've never known an adcom to go into its archives and dig out an applicant's previous application packet, if that's what you're asking.
     
  13. scarletgirl777

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    Disadvantage: I guess this goes along with rank. Some schools' committee letter has one key sentence or word at the end that ranks you in broad categories to all other applicants from your school. As a result, adcoms might try to shortcut by trying to zero in on that word/sentence. :thumbdown:

    Advantage: Don't have to meet the stringent LOR requirements if you have a committee letter!
     
  14. swamprat

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    what do you mean exactly by this? i know for some do schools like lecom fro the packet i got earlier this year its either 4 LOR or 1 committee letter and 1 DO letter. I never really understood that.
     
  15. 19nbj58

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    Thats what she means. Different schools have different LOR requirements, so the committee letter allows you to circumvent these policies since it is universally accepted (and preferred).
     
  16. scarletgirl777

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    Some schools will say, you need 1 science senior faculty letter and a letter from every research experience and a letter from a humanities professor and a letter from your swim coach etc etc etc. Very specific requirements. Most schools will say that a committee letter trumps all (or even if they don't, you can often assume it). So no matter how many letters are in your packet or what type they are, then it's acceptable. It's still a good idea to have letters from different parts of your life, but it definitely helps with the stress level.
     
  17. Excelsius

    Excelsius Carpe Noctem
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    Thanks for the insight, Rel and Lizzy. The list has been updated.
     
  18. Excelsius

    Excelsius Carpe Noctem
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    Lizzy, if that's the norm, then how can an adcom find out exactly how has a reapplicant improved from the previous cycle? I thought that one of the major disadvantages of reapplicants was that med schools look for significant improvement, which will be almost impossible to ascertain without looking into the archives.
     
  19. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers
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    We look at the current application. That contains a line stating the years, if any, that the applicant previously applied (e.g. 2006, 2007).

    Then the question becomes, "what has the applicant done since his/her previous application cycle?" This is obvious in the list of courses taken and in the experience section. Some schools also add a question to the supplemental to give applicants a chance to explain activities since graduation. And, of course, if the MCAT has been retaken, that information (including test date) is on the AMCAS.
     
  20. nick_carraway

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    So this means that the AMCAS personal statement doesn't need to be completely rewritten if you're happy with the theme?

    I was concerned that adcoms would look down upon the fact that the experiences in the essay changed but the overall message remained the same.
     
  21. novastorm

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    I would have to say I don't like committee letters, waste of time for how much you had to do to get a simple: not recommended, recommended, strongly recommended...very useful.
     
    #21 novastorm, Jan 3, 2009
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2009

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