Since the 1970s, undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States have been encouraged by professional schools to institute pre-health committees and provide committee letters for applicants from their institution. As a result, professional schools – particularly medical and dental schools – expect applicants from colleges that have a pre-health committee, to apply with the assistance of their university’s pre-health committee. Examples of how schools articulate these expectations can be seen on the Admissions websites for the University of Maryland Dental School and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
AAMC’s Official Guide to Medical School Admissions provides an excellent summary of the purpose and contents of a pre-health committee composite letter: “One important service provided by the advisor to pre-health students, and frequently also to alumni, is the pre-health committee letter of recommendation. This is usually a composite letter written on behalf of a medical school applicant by the college or university’s pre-health committee. The pre-health advisor may be a committee member or the committee chair, and is usually the liaison between students and the committee, facilitating letter-writing and the distribution of letters to schools. This letter presents an overview of the student’s academic strengths, exposure to health care and medical research environments, contributions to the campus and community, and personal attributes such as maturity and altruism. The letter may also address any extenuating circumstances that may have resulted in deficits in the student’s performance during a course or semester, or provide perspective on challenges and problems that student may have encountered. The letter can also explain school-specific courses and programs in which the student has participated.”
Each university’s pre-health committee functions differently, but they share a common mission: to evaluate an applicant’s credentials and overall competitiveness for professional school. The pre-health committee letter is an institutional letter which provides a comprehensive evaluation of an applicant’s readiness for professional school while holistically reflecting upon an applicant’s scholarly accomplishments, demonstrated commitment to a healthcare career, research experiences, philanthropic and community service related activities, leadership qualities, and personal characteristics and history. The overarching goal of the committee’s evaluation is to provide admissions committees with a multidimensional assessment of a medical or dental school applicant’s suitability for their chosen professional school and reflections on the applicant’s core competencies, as defined by AAMC.
UMBC’s Pre-Health Committee: HPEC
The pre-health committee at UMBC, the Health Professions Evaluation Committee (HPEC), is comprised of faculty from the Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology, Anthropology and Public Health, as well as advisors from the PreMedical and PreDental Advising Office. Students and alumni who participate in HPEC’s Annual Cohort process complete series of steps and exercises that help them gather, organize, and prepare the necessary documents needed for application to medical and dental school. The HPEC Cohort process mirrors the centralized application service process, provides a confidential credentialing service for applicants and the UMBC faculty, ensures consistent and holistic recommendations to professional schools from year to year, and provides professional schools with an executive summary or composite letter for each applicant. Some of the factors considered in the comprehensive review include academic accomplishments, intellectual ability, motivation to pursue a health professions career, leadership and teamwork abilities, standardized test scores, professionalism, and interpersonal communication skills.
The credentialing arm of the Health Professions Evaluation Committee acts as an intermediary in the recommendation letter process. The Committee collects and stores recommendation letters written for active applicants and then transmits them to the professional school admission committees, along with the HPEC composite letter or executive summary.
The minimum requirements to access the services of UMBC’s HPEC are fairly consistent from year to year and unless a new policy is implemented, potential applicants can assume that the requirements will be very similar for the next Cohort. However, requirements are subject to change and potential future applicants should check back to this website for updates and modifications applicable to future cohorts.