The medical school waiting game is hard at every step of the application cycle. You wait for your MCAT scores to be posted, you wait for the secondaries to roll in, and you wait for interview invitations. Perhaps the hardest time to wait, however, is the dreaded stretch of time after interviews until…a yes? A no? A…maybe? Is no news from medical schools good news? It’s enough to give any Type A pre-med an ulcer.
It can be hard to wait. It can also be hard to know if you should provide schools with additional information during that difficult period between interviews and a response. With the med school acceptance process being a bit of a ‘black box,’ sometimes applicants end up waiting months without a clue as to where they stand. It’s like being ghosted after a great first date.
For that reason, for many premeds, medical school update letters are the enticing equivalent of a “heyy,” text that you send, sheepishly, to your crush after a few weeks of radio silence. Like that text, update letters and their counterparts, letters of interest/intent, can sometimes feel a little cringy, and may leave you wondering if they actually work.
Med school update letters do have their place, and used judiciously they can remind programs what an asset you are as a candidate.
In this article, we’ll explore when to send an update, when to skip it, as well as what to say and avoid. We’ll even provide you with a handy template to use as your foundation. No need to feel awkward about reaching out to your number one crush…we mean, med school.
First, let’s explore what an update letter is, and the forms it can take. For some, an update letter is simply that…a description of new activities or accomplishments that you perceive will have a significant impact on a committee decision. Think of this like updating your Tinder bio with new and relevant information for potential dates.
But update letters can also have a stronger purpose. You can send a letter of interest (akin to sliding into someone’s DMs) or a letter of intent (a proposal of marriage in written form). You can send multiple update and interest letters, but your letter of intent, if you chose to pen one, should only be sent to your true top choice.
While there are different intensity levels and different purposes underpinning each of these letters, ultimately, all letters should still accomplish most of the same things. Here are the situations and goals of any letter that you send to the schools to which you’ve applied:
Sending a medical school update letter is appropriate if:
In rare cases, if a school you’ve applied to has neither offered you an interview nor rejected you, late in the cycle, you could consider sending a letter before an interview.
If a school has rejected you, an update letter, even a letter of interest or a letter of intent, won’t make them change their mind.
The most important, and hopefully most obvious response to this question is, don’t send if they don’t accept update letters! During your interview, ask school admissions officers if their office accepts update letters. Send an email if you need to double-check or can’t find the information on their website, but just don’t do it if they say they don’t want to see them; it will reflect poorly on you as a candidate. While schools won’t consider the contents of your letter, they will remember that you sent it when they asked you not to.
When sending an update, also think critically about whether or not the length of time between correspondence merits a communication. If you were interviewed a week ago, do not send an update letter. It’s just too soon.
Similarly, if you don’t really have an update that’s significant, don’t send a letter. Things that you’re continuing to do (school, work, research), that haven’t changed since your primary application do not warrant an additional communication with programs.
If you determine that an update letter is appropriate, what should your letter include? There’s a few things you want to keep in mind when writing your letter, to make sure both the content and tone are appropriate.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when you sit down to write:
If there’s a project or a paper that you mentioned in your primary application that has grown or developed since you last spoke to the school, tell them about it; show that you can finish what you start. Show schools the ways in which you persist in working toward a goal or accomplishing a task. Connect those goals to success at their medical school.
Connect your letter to ways in which your updates prepare you for medical school.
Make these professional connections for your readers. This doesn’t mean you can’t mention your personal life, or your participation in the latest viral TikTok craze, but put it in the context of medical school.
In order to prioritize my mental and emotional wellbeing, an important skill for a future healthcare provider, I take a break every once in a while to collaborate on TikTok challenges with my friends.
As long as it’s in the right context, personal updates are great. They show who you are and what you value outside of education, which will make you a well-rounded healthcare provider.
While an update letter should tell all the new and evolving ways that you’re great, it’s also important to be humble and gracious when describing your accomplishments. An attitude of gratitude is key for these letters.
Remember: One of the most-prized competencies that admissions committees look for in an applicant is teamwork. Acknowledge that your accomplishments occur within a greater context of people who support you and make the dream a reality.
Similarly, consider humility when it comes to your tone. Don’t start your letter with an accusatory statement like, “It’s been a few months since I heard from you,” or “I would have expected to hear by this point in the cycle, given my numerous accomplishments.”
It’s a little like sending a text that says, “How dare you ghost ME? I’m WAY out of your league.”
Just don’t do it.
Consider something like this:
The opportunity to have an article on hypertensive rats published in the New England Journal of Medicine was certainly an honor, but it would not have been possible without such a supportive and dedicated research team. I look forward to continuing such important work as a student at School of My Dreams.
Your accomplishments are, of course, meaningful and important to you, but you have to make them meaningful to schools as well. Why should they care that these milestones or achievements occurred in your life? What does that prepare you to do, specifically, at their program? Be specific here, and avoid regurgitating information you see on a program’s website. They know all about their own curriculum–why does it work for YOU? They know their mission statement–why does YOUR volunteer work prepare you to carry out their vision?
My recent Nobel Peace Prize has prepared me to support School of My Dreams’ dedication to upholding equity and diversity in medicine. I share these values, and would be honored by the opportunity to earn an education at School of My Dreams.
Specifically reference the parts of the program that you’re referencing, but keep it brief, focusing instead on the connection between the school and your contributions.
Your update letter should be no longer than a page. That’s it. No exceptions. No messing around with the margins or changing the font, either. Keep it brief. Medical schools know how to get in touch with you if they have any questions.
Hopefully this guide will help you feel secure and confident in reaching out to the schools or school of your dreams, during that challenging waiting period premeds are all too familiar with.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll feel so great, you’ll be inspired to reach out to that person you went on a date with a few weeks ago.
Or maybe not.
Until then, use the following template and example as a guide to shape your own update letter. And hang in there. Waiting is tough, but it won’t be forever.
Dear School of My Dreams Admissions Committee,
My name is First-Name Last-Name [AMCAS ID: 123456789] and I am an applicant who interviewed at School of My Dreams on [Month, Day, Year]. I enjoyed my interview day immensely, and in the meantime have appreciated learning even more about your program through [publication, conversation with alum, news story]. I appreciate your consideration of this update letter, which provides additional information about my ongoing professional endeavors, new pursuits, and developments in my personal life.
Paragraph 1: In regard to my professional goals and development, I would also like to update you on the status of [ongoing professional activities]. This work will help me prepare for my medical education.
Paragraph 2: Furthermore, I have had the opportunity to engage in new activities as well. These include: [new professional activities]. I’m grateful to have this new opportunity to grow my skills in preparation for [specific school program, curricular element, student organization].
Paragraph 3: Finally, I am excited to share [personal life updates]. I look forward to finding a community of similarly enthusiastic individuals at [School of My Dreams] to share these hobbies with during our free time.
Paragraph 4 (optional): I wish to also express at this time, [School of My Dreams] is the only program at which I can imagine pursuing my medical education. If given the privilege of a School of My Dreams education, I know I would contribute meaningfully to the community it serves.
(Expression of intent or interest)
Thank you for your consideration.
First name, Last Name
January 26, 2018
To the __________ Admissions Committee,
My name is ______, [AMCAS ID] and I was an interviewee at your program on December 9 of last year. I was excited to read your program’s recent statement of support in support of undocumented applicants; I appreciate that so much great work is happening at ______. I’m sure it continues to be a busy time in your office; I appreciate your consideration of several updates to my application.
First and foremost, a study on which I was a co-author, Risk Factors for Recurrent Neurotrauma: A Population-Based Study in Southeastern Michigan, was accepted for publication in a forthcoming issue of the journal Brain Injury. Additionally, my nonprofit, Share Your Service, wrote and received a several thousand dollar grant from the organization World Connect. This will enable us to support Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in crafting their service stories to share in various social justice forums. This work will proceed in the coming months.
There has also been a change in my employment status since September. I was promoted to the AmeriCorps Program Coordinator position at the Community Health Improvement department of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system.
I am responsible for overseeing the program development, recruitment, training and implementation of the AmeriCorps grant awarded the department. This position allows me to continue working with and advocating for an underserved community, a goal I aspire to continue at _____, through the ______program. We have made it a policy to hire exclusively from the Recovery community such that our CHWs are integrated into the communities they serve. I have also worked closely with our director of research to conduct an inquiry into the efficacy of Employee Assistance Programs for people in recovery, and support a qualitative review on patient experience with the program. I am hopeful that I can do similar work with Dr. ______, if offered the opportunity of a ______ education.
Finally, I have also been offered and accepted a part-time position teaching Sociology and Psychology for the MCAT with The Princeton Review.
I thank you for your time and consideration of this update. Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide.