“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing.”
Years ago, I had a student open his personal statement with this line, and it has always stuck with me (kudos to him).
It certainly applies to the waiting game period – the span of several months when pre-meds have already turned in secondaries or gone to interviews, and now all they can do is hope, pray, and stew in their feelings of self-consciousness.
Pre-meds are not very good at sitting around idly and waiting. I think that’s why they’re so drawn to the idea of update letters. They want to do everything in their power to help their situation.
But how effective are update letters, really?
That’s a hard question to answer. But I can say that every letter, regardless of its quality, serves at least one important function: it reminds the schools that you exist and that you’re interested. However, you’re a Savvy pre-med, so let’s try to push beyond what’s standard and acceptable.
How can you write an update letter that actually works? Or in other words, how do you write an update letter that actually gets you a second look, an interview, or maybe even that bump off the waitlist?
*PLEASE NOTE – some schools don’t accept update letters, so make sure you understand each school’s rules before you take action! Don’t piss off your admissions readers before they even hear your message.
Let’s start by looking at an example of a pretty average (not terrible) example of an update letter:
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Joe Pre-med, and I am a current applicant for XYZ School of Medicine’s class of 2024. Since several months have passed without any news from your admissions office, I wanted to reach out to provide an update on my activities and express how great of a fit I’d be for your incoming class.
Since submitting my secondary application on the first possible day (7/3/2019), I have remained avid in improving my candidacy. I have continued my job as Chief Scribe, where I train younger inexperienced scribes and serve as the catalyst that holds our clinical workflow together. At times, I’ve pointed out key information about patients and their histories that the physicians had overlooked. I feel like this job is giving me a full and accurate look into what my future career will entail, and I’m happy to be getting a valuable headstart that will separate me from my cohort in medical school.
Outside of scribing, I’ve been training for two boundary-pushing physical challenges: a full marathon and a bodybuilding competition. While working with my friend who is a personal trainer, I have been cutting seconds and cutting fat every day. I’ve always been a natural athlete, but these endeavors are testing my limits and elevating me to a new level.
Lastly, I’m currently planning a detailed sailing adventure with my friends, where we’ll be taking a rented boat from Catalina Island all the way up to Portland, with several ports along the way. This will be a great way to escape from all the stress of applications while also testing our self-sufficiency and seafaring abilities. We’ve already started a social media page for our trip, @___________, where we’ll be recording our voyage and making connections with people at different ports. It’s going to be awesome, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it at an interview!
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! If you grant me one of these spots, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!
Very excited to finally meet you,
AMCAS ID: 123456789
Revising Your Med School Update Letter
Before we get started, go ahead and make a short list of things you might want to correct about the average example.
Done? Here’s what I came up with:
* the tone is arrogant and lacks self-awareness
* there isn’t very much “trackable progress”
* there is no connection to the school itself
These three bullet points will guide our revision of the letter, but let’s break down the average example piece by piece:
In my opinion, 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.
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.
Be humble and polite:
“…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.
Include something personal about the 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 example below for reference.
Don’t try to impress; show your value to others:
Read the Chief Scribe paragraph again – does it sound like someone you’d want to work with? Sure, he’s in charge of training people and he’s giving doctors important information, but it screams of insecure self-importance.
Cut down on the personal endeavors or hobbies:
It’s great that he’s running a marathon, and the bodybuilding competition and sailing trip could actually stand out as unusual gap year activities. BUT they take up WAY too much space, and they’re given exaggerated importance. They’d actually have more power if they were kept to a line or two.
Show your trackable progress:
Most things in the current letter are either continuations or 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.
Connect your gap year activities to the school’s mission/opportunities:
Right now, for the most part, this letter could be sent to all schools without making changes, which is 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.”
Strong Example of a Med School Update Letter That Actually Works
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.
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!
What this guide helpful? Do you have any other questions about update letters? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!