Letters of Evaluation: The Basics

Letters of evaluation are an important part of the ACMAS application and thus, the med school admissions process. Per the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), "A recommendation letter or letter of evaluation is a letter in which the author assesses the qualities, characteristics, and capabilities of the person being recommended/evaluated."

Admissions committees can learn a lot about an applicant beyond their metrics. Effective letters offer professional perspectives on an applicant's many diverse attributes and personal qualities. Truth is, the majority of medical school applicants from year to year have competitive grades and scores, so letters give insight into each individual's unique strengths and experiences.

In addition, letters of evaluation can highlight one's commitment to medicine through their service, research, and academic pursuits. Also helpful is the fact that other health professionals, academics, and/or mentors can vouch for those interests and capabilities.

So who are the people that you should consider to be your letter writers?
Think of who can best contribute to your application. The writers should be able to speak in depth about you, meaning someone who you've been engaged with for a consistent amount of time. In general, some ideas may include:

-Professors and other academic faculty (science and non-science)
-Research advisor
-Pre-med committees
-Employment Supervisors
-Volunteer Coordinators
-Health Professionals
-Mentors

There are certainly other possibilities but the key here is that they know you and your abilities well. The credentials of your writers are a factor, but should not take precedence over how well they can provide an accurate assessment of your suitability for medical school. Identify those who can best describe your strengths.

You'll need several writers.

Typically, medical schools will require a certain number of letters, which varies from school to school. The MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) requires three letters with a maximum of five. Most schools will allow the same range, but some can allow up to six or more.

Along this line, schools may have additional guidelines to follow. For instance, the CHM Office of Admissions requests that one letter be from a basic science or medical science professor who can critically evaluate your academic potential, maturity, strengths and weaknesses, and the difficulty of coursework, if applicable. You can find more guidelines and information on our website's Letters of Evaluation page. There are also AAMC Letter of Evaluation guidelines that potential letter writers should review.

Potential traditional medical school applicants should start thinking about who can fill these roles towards your final year or two. Non-traditional applicants or those with extenuating circumstances who are prevented a letter from a basic science or medical science professor may be made an exception, if they can fulfill certain requirements and guidelines.

If you have taken time off between college and medical school, applicants to the MSU College of Human Medicine should also send a letter of evaluation from a person who can comment about experiences during that period.

Letters of evaluation must be submitted through the AMCAS Letters Service for all medical schools participating in the service. Instructions for submitting letters to AMCAS are provided within the AMCAS application. Unsolicited letters sent directly to CHM outside of the AMCAS Letters Service will not be reviewed and, instead, discarded. Once your letters are received by AMCAS, they will be sent to your designated schools.

There are three types of letters that can be submitted:
  • An individual letter is just that, written by and representing one author.
  • A committee letter can be provided by a pre-health committee or advisor to represent your undergraduate institution’s overall evaluation of you. Some schools have pre-health or pre-med committees, but others may not. With that said, some medical schools may require a committee letter from those applicants whose undergraduate institutions have a pre-health or pre-med committee.
  • A letter packet is a set of letters that can be compiled by several different options, including your institution or institution's career center.  In contrast to a committee letter, a letter packet does not include a single evaluative letter.

Something to note is that you should not add a separate entry for an individual letter if you have already included that letter within either a committee letter or packet. Also, committee letters and letter packets each count as one entry, though there will be separate notes from different sources.

Are you considering a dual-degree program? Applicants must submit letters as requested by these specific programs. Be sure to do your research.

There's a ton of additional information out there on letters, including this solid piece from Student Doctor Network. Brush up on how to acquire letter writers and be sure to pay attention to deadlines. On the other end, be courteous and give your letter writers a good amount of notice ahead of time. Obtaining solid letters requires time and planning.

Lastly, don't forget to thank your writers!

All in all, letters help fill in the gaps. Along with the personal statement, letters of evaluation can go a long way into making your application stand out.

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