Deciding Whom to Ask
We will not suggest any particular faculty members as more likely to write positive evaluations, nor will we suggest that you exclude certain faculty as more likely to write unsupportive letters. You are the only one who knows whether your interaction with specific instructors has been positive, negative, or neutral, and the extent to which a faculty member knows you. You should request letters accordingly. It is not the function of the HPA to sanitize an applicant’s “File of Evaluations” by editing or deleting letters or parts of letters. Confidentiality of letters is maintained at all times unless an applicant has retained his or her access to the letters.
If you plan to ask for a letter of evaluation from a research experience, you should ask the Principal Investigator or PI to be your evaluator. If you have worked closely with a post-doctoral fellow or graduate student, it may be appropriate to have them co-write and co-sign the letter with your PI, but make sure that your PI is involved; your PI must sign any evaluation you have from your research experience. If you are unsure if you should ask for a co-written/co-signed letter or a letter from your PI alone, consult your Prehealth Advisor.
Confidential versus Non-confidential Letters
Admission committees want to know that your letters are confidential, i.e., you have waived your right to see them or have access to them. Through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (known as FERPA or the Buckley amendment), you have a right to inspect your letter or letters, but we must tell you that it is to your advantage to waive this right.
You should request each letter through AdviseStream; however, before doing so, you should complete the waiver section and sign it. If you do not waive your right to see a letter, the letter from that evaluator will be stamped “non-confidential.” Likewise if you do not waive your right to see the health professions advisor’s Committee Letter of Evaluation, it will be stamped “non-confidential.” Please pay attention to these details.
Letters of Evaluation for Making Application to M.D./Ph.D. Combined Degree Programs
Application to combined degree programs such as the M.D./Ph.D. programs must be accompanied by documentation of the applicant’s special interest in and strengths for those particular programs. While your essay will be used to assess your interests and strengths, your letters of evaluation will go a long way in serving to confirm both. Therefore, those interested in such programs should give particular attention to structuring a “File of Evaluations” that speaks not only of your interest in medical school, but your interest in research, experience in doing basic research and promise for a career in research. This is best done by those who have seen you in that setting. For M.D. applicants, the file of letters is recommended to be no more than 5 or 6 letters. However, M.D./Ph.D. applicants may include additional research letters. Some M.D./Ph.D. programs will require letters from every research experience in which you have participated.
A Special Note to Duke Graduate Students and Employees
Medical schools and other health professions schools expect that, if you use a health professions advising office to prepare and submit your letters, it will be the office of your primary undergraduate institution. They will evaluate your application in light of that institution and expect the health professions advisor to evaluate your credentials in comparison with other graduates of that particular college or university. For this reason, the Duke HPA does not work individually with Duke graduate students and/or employees unless they earned their undergraduate degree at Duke. However, those individuals are welcome to attend our group sessions, obtain our literature, and use the library of resources available in our office.
Use of Evaluations
When you request an evaluation from an individual, you should make that person aware that the letter is to be used for the purposes of your application to one of the health professions schools. The author of the letter has this in mind when composing the text of the letter. It would be inappropriate to use these letters for any other purpose. Therefore, with two exceptions, the HPA will not transmit your “File of Evaluations” or any evaluation being held in your file to a type of school not identified to the evaluator at the time the evaluation was written, nor will the HPA transmit your letters to the Career Center or a prospective employer. We will not be able to send the letters to graduate schools (including schools of public health), prospective employers, etc.
An exception follows: At your request, the HPA will send your premedical evaluations to certain appropriate health professions scholarship programs that select their candidates on the basis of the strength of those evaluations. Generally this is done only after you have received an offer of acceptance to a school. We are not able to send the letters to small scholarship programs unknown to us. Please remember that faculty and others have entrusted the HPA office with these letters and we have assured the letter writers that their confidentiality will be protected and the letters will only be used for the program indicated by the applicant.
Does Duke Use a “Committee Letter”?
When individual schools request that you submit your letters of evaluation, they may ask if you will be having a “Committee Letter of Evaluation” or individual letters sent. At the current time, Duke does not provide committee letters.
Transmission of Letters of Evaluation to Schools
In recent years, we have been transmitting files of letters of evaluation electronically to medical schools. For the 2015 application cycle, the HPA at Duke will continue to use the AMCAS Letter Writer Service and VirtualEvals. The advantage to applicants is that transmitting letters electronically is more efficient, faster, and more secure than conventional means. DukeMed remains one of the schools that does not use the AMCAS Letter Writer Service so we transmit your letters to DukeMed directly. In addition, you are notified by email when your letters are transmitted by our office to either the AMCAS Letter Writer Service or VirtualEvals.
The HPA will not customize letters for each school
The “File of Evaluations” is a single document and will be transmitted to each of the schools you request. The HPA will not be able to customize letters for sending to individual schools. Exceptions to this procedure are limited to M.D./Ph.D. applicants and those applying to both allopathic (MD) and osteopathic (DO) medical schools.