HPAC

May 19, 2020
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Not exactly what you asked for, but from my perspective as an HPAC member, I can say that quite a few of our students don't go through the process of a committee letter, for multiple reasons. Many of them get in with no issues. You'll probably also get some helpful perspectives from students here. I'm the first to admit that not all HPACs are created equal.

IMO, where a committee letter can really help is if your app would (a) benefit from institutional context (for instance, you go to a really competitive school and have slightly lower grades), or (b) you have a lot of faculty who can write for you, but don't really have 3 that stand out as able to write you a single, strong, letter.

When I write committee letters, I'm able to craft a narrative that puts the students performance into the context of a wide range of other students who have gone on to be successful in medical school. Similarly, I'm able to summarize a wider range of faculty perspectives to paint an overall picture.

And... You'd be surprised at how truly weak some individual letters I get as part of an applicants package are. Not unfavorable, but 2 short paragraphs that provide so little information that they really aren't going to help the student, even if they don't hurt. While those letters aren't great stand-alone, they are great additions to a committee letter.

Just some thoughts. I don't strongly push students one way or another- some of the students who have worked in my lab opt for individual letters instead of the committee. That said, I do usually recommend committee letters, all else equal.
 
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KnightDoc

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Not exactly what you asked for, but from my perspective as an HPAC member, I can say that quite a few of our students don't go through the process of a committee letter, for multiple reasons. Many of them get in with no issues. You'll probably also get some helpful perspectives from students here. I'm the first to admit that not all HPACs are created equal.

IMO, where a committee letter can really help is if your app would (a) benefit from institutional context (for instance, you go to a really competitive school and have slightly lower grades), or (b) you have a lot of faculty who can write for you, but don't really have 3 that stand out as able to write you a single, strong, letter.

When I write committee letters, I'm able to craft a narrative that puts the students performance into the context of a wide range of other students who have gone on to be successful in medical school. Similarly, I'm able to summarize a wider range of faculty perspectives to paint an overall picture.

And... You'd be surprised at how truly weak some individual letters I get as part of an applicants package are. Not unfavorable, but 2 short paragraphs that provide so little information that they really aren't going to help the student, even if they don't hurt. While those letters aren't great stand-alone, they are great additions to a committee letter.

Just some thoughts. I don't strongly push students one way or another- some of the students who have worked in my lab opt for individual letters instead of the committee. That said, I do usually recommend committee letters, all else equal.
Just curious -- how does a committee letter help if you go to a really competitive school and have slightly lower grades? Do you mean everyone's grades are lower due to deflation, or the candidate's grades are slightly lower than his peers at the competitive school?

If it's the latter, how does a committee letter help? Presumably, the other people getting letters, who have better grades, will not have weaker letters than the candidate with lower grades. What am I missing?
 
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GreenDuck12

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Just curious -- how does a committee letter help if you go to a really competitive school and have slightly lower grades? Do you mean everyone's grades are lower due to deflation, or the candidate's grades are slightly lower than his peers at the competitive school?

If it's the latter, how does a committee letter help? Presumably, the other people getting letters, who have better grades, will not have weaker letters than the candidate with lower grades. What am I missing?

Some committee letters include rankings for classes/majors. So in theory a 3.85 that is number 2 in the class/program may look better when heard from the faculty in a letter. This really isn’t a common thing. The issue grade deflation is not nearly as pervasive as premeds think and tends to spike when grades for midterms and finals are released.
 
May 19, 2020
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Some committee letters include rankings for classes/majors. So in theory a 3.85 that is number 2 in the class/program may look better when heard from the faculty in a letter. This really isn’t a common thing. The issue grade deflation is not nearly as pervasive as premeds think and tends to spike when grades for midterms and finals are released.

Pretty much this. I work at a highly selective institution with very little grade inflation, but where something close to 2/3rds of the students within the sciences go on to get a doctorate of some flavor (MD, PhD, etc.) within x number of years after graduation. So our committee letters all have some language that places grades in the context of the institution, along with what "average" grades are and what "average" grades mean in the context of our students success in medical school.

As has been pointed out on here, low grades are low grades, but in my (limited) sample size, it certainly seems to help. It also doesn't hurt that because of the large proportion of the student population that matriculates, the HPAC has a pretty good reputation for its recommendations meaning something.

While individual faculty letters could certainly do this, they have less of an "institutional" context to put forth that argument than a committee letter does, IMO.

While I wouldn't say it's "common", I would say it's more common at elite LACs than elsewhere, at least in talking to my colleagues at other similar schools.
 
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KnightDoc

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Some committee letters include rankings for classes/majors. So in theory a 3.85 that is number 2 in the class/program may look better when heard from the faculty in a letter. This really isn’t a common thing. The issue grade deflation is not nearly as pervasive as premeds think and tends to spike when grades for midterms and finals are released.
Okay ... but all of the adcoms have stated that while a candidate might get a slight boost if coming from some big time, name brand school, they really don't care about grade deflation, or being #2 with a 3.85, which is a great GPA in any event. So my question remains -- how does a committee letter do anything for someone with slightly lower grades at a really competitive school?
 

KnightDoc

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Pretty much this. I work at a highly selective institution with very little grade inflation, but where something close to 2/3rds of the students within the sciences go on to get a doctorate of some flavor (MD, PhD, etc.) within x number of years after graduation. So our committee letters all have some language that places grades in the context of the institution, along with what "average" grades are and what "average" grades mean in the context of our students success in medical school.

As has been pointed out on here, low grades are low grades, but in my (limited) sample size, it certainly seems to help. It also doesn't hurt that because of the large proportion of the student population that matriculates, the HPAC has a pretty good reputation for its recommendations meaning something.

While individual faculty letters could certainly do this, they have less of an "institutional" context to put forth that argument than a committee letter does, IMO.

While I wouldn't say it's "common", I would say it's more common at elite LACs than elsewhere, at least in talking to my colleagues at other similar schools.
Thanks!!! It sounds, however, like the reputation of your school and the quality of your graduates probably allows for slightly lower grades than would be the case from a typical, grade inflated or public school, with or without a committee letter putting it in context for schools that already have experience with your graduates. But, you did answer my question -- you were talking about all of your grads having slightly lower grades than typical, not one candidate having lower grades than his peers.
 
May 19, 2020
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Okay ... but all of the adcoms have stated that while a candidate might get a slight boost if coming from some big time, name brand school, they really don't care about grade deflation, or being #2 with a 3.85, which is a great GPA in any event. So my question remains -- how does a committee letter do anything for someone with slightly lower grades at a really competitive school?

Just to clarify: this is a common statement made by members of admissions committees here. And while they give wonderful advice and often based not just on their personal experience, I would caution you to not assume that every admissions committee member everywhere has the same perspective.

I will note, committee letters also do allow for some support for an individual student who may have lower grades than peers, if they have compelling reasons why and have other things that make up for them. So, for instance, a committee might highlight and put into context specific upwards trends within particular course sequences, can highlight things in a students life (health issues, family crises) and other things that might surround a particular GPA number.

The point of a committee letter (at least, from my perspective) is to be a holistic and honest evaluation of the candidate from a section of faculty who are closer to the student and can put their performance into context with how we expect them to perform in medical school, based on correlations between past students performance post-graduation and their time at our institution.
 
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GreenDuck12

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Okay ... but all of the adcoms have stated that while a candidate might get a slight boost if coming from some big time, name brand school, they really don't care about grade deflation, or being #2 with a 3.85, which is a great GPA in any event. So my question remains -- how does a committee letter do anything for someone with slightly lower grades at a really competitive school?
I’m not saying it will make a difference to an admissions committee. Just that there are ways committees attempt to put things like grades and class/program rank in context. Being in the top x% may be useful information, similar to receiving Latin honors or graduating phi beta kappa, for the committee to have.
 
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