The HPA Committee Letter Process

The letter of recommendation written by HPA on an applicant’s behalf is often called a composite letter or committee letter. Composite letters are preferred by medical and dental schools, and accepted by some veterinary, optometry and other health professional schools. The letter is referred to as a “composite” because it incorporates information from several different sources.

Purpose of the Committee Letter

The committee letter serves many purposes, all of which are valuable to students in the application process:

  • To provide a clear narrative of the applicant’s candidacy
  • To address anomalies in the applicant’s candidacy within context
  • To give admissions committees a clearer understanding of the candidate in the context of other Princeton applicants
  • To help HPA advisers learn more about applicants, which may be helpful in guiding them through the application process.

Eligibility for a Committee Letter for New Applicants

In order for a committee letter to be written for a new applicant (i.e., an applicant who has never received a committee letter), the following criteria must be met: 

  • The applicant must have taken at least half of the pre-requisite science courses at Princeton in the past seven years.
  • The applicant must secure at least one letter of recommendation from a faculty member (or preceptor) who taught them in a science course.
  • The applicant must meet all paperwork deadlines:
    • Seven days prior to pre-application interview: HPA forms 1-4, essays, activities list
    • June 10: Absolute deadline for HPA pre-application interview scheduling (preferred scheduling is in February)
    • August 15: Absolute deadline for AMCAS submission (ideal submission is in June)
  • The applicant must sign up for and participate in a pre-application interview.
  • The applicant must provide HPA a copy of the verified primary application(s).

Please note that while there are no GPA or MCAT cut-offs to receive a committee letter of recommendation, HPA strongly encourages students to engage in the committee letter of recommendation process when they feel confident that they are competitive applicants. A committee letter will provide an honest evaluation of academic performance and readiness for success in the rigorous medical school curriculum.

For Princeton students and alumni who are ineligible for a composite letter, HPA will collect individual letters of recommendation on their behalf, and send a packet of the individual letters out to schools with a brief cover letter. See Letter Collection Service for more details.

Contents of Committee Letters

The committee letter is generally about two single-spaced pages and draws primarily from information gleaned in the materials that candidates submit to HPA, the Pre-Application Interview, the letters of evaluation, and our overall work with each candidate over the years. The information is organized into roughly the following structure:

  • Candidate Introduction – describes motivation for medicine, childhood experiences, background
  • Academic Experiences – discuss intellectual choices, provide context for grades especially if there are anomalous situations, highlight achievements
  • Meaningful Activities – highlighting candidate’s engagement in research, service, medically-related experience, and leadership
  • Closing comments
     

Timing of Committee Letters

The committee letters of recommendation are prepared beginning in May; preparing them is a time-intensive process for the HPA office, and this is the reason that we ask for much information from applicants well before the application season truly begins with submitting your application in June. 

Submission of Committee Letters

Once the committee letter is written, it is sent, along with other materials, to the applicant’s schools. The materials sent by HPA include:

  • Cover sheet with general information
  • Committee letter
  • Individual letters of recommendation
  • Pre-health Course Form
  • Letter addressing disciplinary/academic institutional action, if applicable.
  • Description of Princeton’s grading policies, independent work requirements, and other highlights of the academic program

For allopathic (MD) schools, committee letters are sent through the AMCAS letter writer service – you need only designate that you’re receiving a committee letter, and do not include each individual letter writer separately. Contact information to include in your primary application regarding the letter writer:

Author: Ms. Kate Fukawa-Connelly
Email: hpa@princeton.edu - Phone: 609-258-3144
Address: Health Professions Advising, 36 University Pl., Suite 230, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544

Processes for other schools are described in the Applicant Handbook.