September 9, 2020

Every Question You Have About Medical School Update Letters

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Once you submit your secondaries and the summer dies down, it's time to send update letters to the medical schools on your list!

Confused about how to start? What to include? When to send them off? We're here to answer all of your pressing questions and help you craft a stellar update letter that gets noticed by medical schools.

Every Question You Have About Medical School Update Letters

What is an update letter?

It’s a document you send to medical schools to inform them about your recent activities and experiences that have occurred since submitting your secondaries OR since interviewing at their school. 

An Update Letter is a Great Way to:

a) Remind the schools that you still exist

b) Mention new accomplishments since you have applied

c) Show your interest in the schools

The update letter should be sent to all schools that have neither offered you an interview nor have rejected you. In other words, for any school where you're in limbo, you should send this letter.

How is it different from a letter of interest or a letter of intent?

Update letters: 

Although update letters might connect your recent activities to the schools’ mission or opportunities, the primary function is to keep medical schools informed about major accomplishments, involvements, and professional development experiences that they wouldn’t have seen in your primary or secondary application. It shows medical schools that you’re dedicated to self-improvement and a growth mindset.  

Letters of interest:

This is a heartfelt and sincere letter that focuses on exactly why the school is a perfect fit for you. You typically send this letter only after you’ve sent an update letter and still haven’t heard back from the school. It should include direct connections between your values, experiences, and goals and the school’s mission, opportunities, and programs. 

Letters of intent:

This letter is typically sent to ONE school at the end of interview season. This short and sweet document communicates to the school that if/when they accept you, you will choose them above all other options.

When should I send update letters to medical schools?

Update letter #1

October (for schools that are still considering you)

Update letter #2

January (for schools that are still considering you)

Update letter #3

April (for any schools that have put you on a waitlist or where you have interviewed but not yet heard back)

Which schools accept/don’t accept update letters?

Most schools accept them, but some don’t, so MAKE SURE to research individual schools’ websites. If they don’t accept update letters, they usually make that pretty clear in their admissions page, FAQ page, or secondary portal.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a comprehensive, updated list of schools that don’t accept them. However, there are a few different threads on Student Doctor Network from 2012 and 2016 that contain a solid list. Those lists might not be totally up-to-date, but they’re a good place to start.

Where do I send the update letters?

Some schools have you upload the update letters to their secondary portals, but in other cases, you’ll want to send it via email to the medical school admissions office.

To avoid breaking protocol, try to read the individual policies for different schools on their websites or portals.  

Should I paste the update letter into an email or attach a document?

On secondary portals, you might have to copy/paste the letter into some kind of text box. When you have the option, attaching a PDF document looks more professional and ensures the letter’s formatting will appear as intended. 

Don’t overthink this. If the letter is compelling, it should be effective either way.

If I email the update letter, what should my subject line be?

Again, don’t overthink it too much. Something like “Your Name - Update Letter” would be fine. Make sure to include your AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS ID number along with your signature.

Whom should I address the letter to?

Using “To Whom It May Concern” is never a great idea.

Yes, you don’t know exactly who will be reading it, but putting something like “Dear XYZ School of Medicine Admissions Committee” looks and sounds a lot better.

We wouldn’t recommend putting the dean’s name, since that could come across as presumptuous. The deans are quite busy and unlikely to be reviewing your letter.

How many update letters can I send?

Some schools will place a restriction of one or two updates per applicant, which is usually indicated on their secondary portals or websites.

If the school doesn’t have an indicated limit, you can follow our recommended October-January-April schedule we listed above. Sending a school more than three is typically excessive and not helpful. It might even irritate them. 

How long should an update letter be? 

A page or less. A few sentences will look rushed or unenthused, but more than a page will turn the reading process into a chore for the medical schools. 

What qualifies as an update? What's significant enough to include?

Your update should be any changes in status, any new accolades, any information that's relevant to your application. Even something as simple as, "I continue to enjoy my challenging research on ____," or "I am working hard to get a paper published," or "I am planning to climb California's highest mountain next month."  

What are some do’s and don’ts when writing update letters?

Don’ts:

1. Avoid comments about the school’s admissions timetable

“Since several months have passed without any news from your admissions office…”

“Hope to hear from you soon, especially since I’ve heard that your school tends to send out its second wave of II’s around this time!”

These sentences don’t help your case at all; they convey that you’re “playing the admissions game” rather than showing genuine attraction to the school.  

2. Don’t be overly confident

“…how great of a fit I’d be for your incoming class.”

“…I can’t wait to tell you all about it at an interview!”

“If you grant me one of these spots, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!”

It’s good to be confident, but not at the expense of decorum or courtesy. Some letters sound like they’re desperately groveling, which isn’t good either, but you can’t risk any tones of entitlement or self-aggrandizing.

3. Don’t include too many hobbies or personal endeavors

It’s great that you’re running a marathon, and your bodybuilding competition and sailing trip could stand out as unusual gap year activities. BUT don’t let them take up too much space or give them exaggerated importance. They actually have more power if they are kept to a line or two.

Do’s:

1. Include something personal about the medical school

The more specific, the better. Maybe you read about them in the news, or really liked one of the sample student research projects on their website. It’s nice if you can include some small personal note as part of the impetus behind the letter. If you can personalize it right away, they’re far more likely to finish reading it.

See the template below for reference. 

2. Show your trackable progress

Oftentimes letters are packed with continuations or future plans. It’s better if you can show an “after picture” of something you brought up in your application – an event you organized, a publication, a completed project – anything to show your follow through and ability to leave things better than you found them.

3. Connect your gap year activities to the school’s mission/opportunities

If your update letter could be sent to all schools without making any changes, that’s a bad sign. Yes, you can template your update letter from school to school, but you MUST distinguish the school’s program and show your “fit.”

Is there an update letter template I can follow?

Sure - check this one out!

Dear XYZ School of Medicine Admissions Committee,

My name is Joe Pre-med, and I am a current applicant for XYZ School of Medicine’s class of 2024. Yesterday I read an exciting news article about the breakthrough CRISPR research going on at XYZ. As someone who’s been involved in genetics research, this gave me yet another reason to be excited about your program. I’m sure your office is incredibly busy this time of the year, but I wanted to provide an update on my activities and express my continued interest in your school.

Since submitting my secondary application in July, I have continued my job as Chief Scribe, where I train younger scribes and coordinate with staff members to improve clinical workflow. With permission from the hospital, I altered our training program to ensure that new scribes were prepared for different providers’ preferences, while also establishing small informal workshops where we review documentation for hypothetical complex cases. This job is honing my leadership, communication, teamwork, and conscientiousness as a co-worker and future provider. Many of our patients are low-income or underserved, giving me a deeper appreciation for XYZ School of Medicine’s commitment to social justice and health equity.

Outside of scribing, I’ve been training for a full marathon and a bodybuilding competition, while also planning a sailing trip with my friends from Catalina Island to Portland. These were all personal milestones that I didn’t have enough time for during my undergraduate years, so it’s exciting to be taking action and actualizing these goals in my time before matriculation. I believe these activities are strengthening my discipline, self-sufficiency, and sense of follow-through, all important traits for a medical student and doctor.

The more I learn about XYZ, the more excited I become by the prospect of potentially interviewing and joining such an amazing program. As mentioned earlier, my past genetics research aligns with some of the pioneering studies taking place at XYZ, and it’d be thrilling to build off my past work among such brilliant faculty and like-minded scholars. Based on my time as Chief Scribe in an underserved clinic, I would love to get involved in your student-run free clinics and take part in your outreach programs that revolve around education and prevention for populations with cost restrictions. Many of our patients have mental health or addiction problems, which are also common problems in the areas surrounding XYZ. In the future, I’d love to collaborate with my cohort of medical school classmates to establish needle exchanges and other social services. Overall, I feel like XYZ is a community where I could thrive and make meaningful contributions on multiple levels.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this letter. I really appreciate your continued consideration of my candidacy. Please let me know if I could provide any further information. I hope to have the chance to share more about my experiences.

Kind regards,

Joe Pre-med

AMCAS ID: 123456789

To re-cap, here are the qualities of strong update letters:

*Creates a personalized narrative, cannot be used verbatim for another school

*Shows knowledge of the school right away

*Maintains humble tone with no hints of entitlement or expectations

*Includes your “trackable progress” of accomplishments and improvement

*Makes connections to the school’s mission and opportunities

 

Keep these points in mind, and you won’t go astray! Hopefully it’s the right combination to get you noticed!

Have any questions about medical school update letters that we missed? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

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