The Premedical Advisory Committee (PAC) Letter of Evaluation is a comprehensive evaluation and supporting documents that is written for current students and alumni applying to graduate schools of the health professions. It is designed to provide the admissions committee with a complete understanding of each candidate’s background and experiences both academic and otherwise.
This evaluation is written at a student’s request and only after the student completes all committee application requirements by the stated deadline. The committee application requires submission of letters of recommendation, resume, autobiography, activities grid, supplemental information form, as well as an interview with the PAC.
During the fall semester, the Office of Preprofessional Advising will hold an informational meeting for all students planning to apply to medical, dental, veterinary or other health professional school in the coming summer. At this time the Application for the Committee Evaluation will be distributed. Once a student submits the Premedical Advisory Committee Application s/he will be assigned a premedical advisor. The assigned adviser will work closely with the student throughout the year and will ultimately write the committee evaluation in consultation with the Premedical Advisory Committee.
Importance of the Committee Evaluation
Most professional school admissions committees place a large amount of emphasis on these evaluations. Admissions committees are very interested in learning more about you as a person and this evaluation can help frame some of your experiences. It is designed to be a comprehensive picture of you as an applicant. The evaluation is an important part of your applicant file. The committee evaluation includes letters of recommendation submitted as a part of the committee application process. These letters should come from individuals who have directly supervised a student's work, either in an academic or employment setting, or through some other community or extra-curricular involvement. Students are encouraged to seek letters from science and non-science faculty, employers, research mentors, coaches, and extracurricular activity advisors. These letters are compiled and sent in full text with the committee evaluation. Many of the people described above will be in a position to comment on an applicant's personal qualities, and should. However, letters from pastors, family friends in influential positions, and politicians are not generally welcomed by professional schools and therefore should not be submitted. Occasionally, an influential individual may have a special connection with a particular school and might write a letter or make a phone call directly to that school. However, applicants should proceed cautiously with such requests; as schools may perceive such an overture as inappropriate.
Students should choose their referees carefully. A person who knows a student well can write a more substantial and helpful letter. In choosing between a person who taught a student in a small class versus someone with a famous name or title but who cannot write a personal letter, students should always choose the former. Letters from graduate student instructors are acceptable.
When and How to Solicit Letters
It is a good idea for students to request letters at the point when the connection with a potential recommender terminates. For example, if a first-year has a good relationship with their literature humanities teacher during their first year but doesn't expect to have another course with the instructor, the student should ask for the letter at the end of the first year. The Office of Preprofessional Advising does not actually need the letters until early summer of the application year, but if students wait until then to request recommendation letters, instructors may have moved on to another college or may have forgotten details about an applicant that would typically make a recommendation stand out. The same timelines apply to other recommenders: if students have an on-going relationship with them, they may wait until their application year to request a letter. Otherwise, they should obtain recommendations earlier.
When asking for the letter, students should make sure that they make an appointment to meet with the person whom they are asking. They should bring their resume and transcript as well as any academic work that they have completed with the letter writer. They should be prepared to talk about their future goals and past achievements. Students should also bring along the Recommendation Waiver Form as well as the Guidelines for Letter Writers.
Students should provide the person with the option of saying NO. All students want to have strong letters and if a person is somewhat uncomfortable writing or doesn’t have enough time, it is likely that the result will be short and weak. It is much better to have someone be honest from the start, so that the applicant can find another referee who will be more enthusiastic.
Applicants should give their referees plenty of advanced notice and time to write a letter of recommendation (a month or even two), but also give them a deadline. Students should be sure to clearly communicate their deadlines.
Students should be sure to keep in touch with letter writers and of course communicate their successes. A thank you note should follow, thanking the recommender for his/her assistance and support.
If students are doing something important in their application summer, they should discuss carefully with their advisors whether or not to include a letter about the activities. Generally, such a gesture depends on its timing. If it appears that waiting for a delayed letter would hold up the committee letter too long, students may always have the Office of Preprofessional Advising send it as an addendum a little later.
Quantity of Letters
Allopathic applicants are required to submit a minimum of four letters of recommendation (six maximum). These letters of recommendation will be included with your Committee Evaluation. You should probably have at the minimum two academic letters of reference from faculty or graduate teaching fellows at Columbia. It is required to have at least one from someone who has taught you in the sciences and recommended to have one from a faculty member in the liberal arts. A few schools have begun requiring 2 science letters. Others who may write useful letters include research advisors, administrators, faculty advisors, athletic coaches, supervisors of campus or summer jobs, and those who have known you in volunteer positions. MDPhD applicants should have a letter for each research opportunity in addition to the recommendations above. As always, please check each school’s requirement.
Letters should be sent directly to the Office of Preprofessional Advising in 101 Carman Hall. Letters hand-delivered by applicants will not be accepted. Please note: All recommendations must be accompanied by a waiver form. Students should complete this form and provide it to all individuals who have agreed to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf along with an addressed, stamped envelope to our office.
NEW! Letter writers may email recommendations, provided the document (PDF preferred) appears on letter head, is dated, and has a scanned handwritten signature.
Privacy of Letters of Recommendation and the Waiver Form
Students may either request an open letter, or to waive their right to see the letter. Students should consider this decision carefully, and discuss the choice with their advisor. Students should be aware that they will be required to be consistent in their waivers. If they waive their right to view the contents of one letter they must do this for all letters of recommendation that will accompany the Committee Letter of Evaluation.