November 23, 2020

How to Write an Effective Letter of Intent for Medical School

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Have you recently interviewed at your dream medical school? Were you just placed on its waitlist? Is interview season over, and you’re still waiting to hear back from your top-choice program?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s likely time for you to write a medical school letter of intent.

You’ve probably heard similar terms, like “update letter” or “letter of interest,” and maybe you feel confused about the difference. Either way, a letter of intent to a medical school is obviously quite high stakes, so you want to make sure you get it right!

This article will answer all your FAQs and help you write an effective medical school letter of intent that gets noticed and moves the needle for you.

How to Write an Effective Letter of Intent for Medical School

What is a letter of intent?

A letter of intent is typically sent to ONE top-choice medical school towards the end of your interview season. This document communicates to the school that if/when they accept you, you will choose them above all other options.

A letter of intent should explain your perceived fit with the school’s curriculum, academic environment, student body, culture, and so on. It’s also smart to convey how you would contribute to the school if admitted.

Medical schools want to maximize their “yield,” or the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. As such, when comparing candidates, schools will be attracted to those who have expressed their strong desire to attend.

How is it different from an update letter or a letter of interest?

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. 

When should I send a letter of intent?

We recommend sending a letter of intent a month after your interview (at least a month), whether you’re placed on the waitlist or haven’t heard back yet.

It would be acceptable to send a second letter of intent two months after your initial one, especially if you have meaningful updates.

Can I send a letter of intent before interviewing or right after interviewing?

You could, but it probably wouldn’t be the wisest decision.

Sending a letter of intent before interviewing or immediately after interviewing could suggest to the school that you’re making the decision hastily, desperately, anxiously, or prematurely.

We recommend only sending a letter of intent AFTER you’ve interviewed. Try to be patient and actually reflect on your options. A letter of intent will be taken more seriously if it’s sent deeper into the interview season.

Is it acceptable to send a letter of intent to multiple schools?

No - this is not an ethical or wise option. 

Expressing your enthusiasm and intention can go a long way, but you cannot tell all the schools on your list that they are your “top choice.”

Besides being dishonest, this could create an awkward situation for you if you receive multiple offers. A letter of intent isn’t legally binding, of course, but it’s a promise whose integrity should be upheld.

Are there schools that don’t accept letters of intent?

This is rare, but there are a few schools that don’t want updates of any kind from applicants. If there is anything from the school indicating that they don’t want ongoing communication, then obviously don’t send a letter of intent.

So, make sure to review all of your past communications with the school, as well as the school’s website, to avoid making an admissions faux pas.

Where do I send the letter of intent?

Usually, you can email your letter of intent to the Director or Dean of Admissions. In some cases, schools may provide a portal for students to upload their letters.

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

Don’t send it to the general contact email for the medical school, since it will likely get lost in the sea of countless emails a school receives every day.

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

On secondary portals, you might have to copy/paste the letter into some kind of textbox. 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 letter of intent, what should my subject line be?

Again, don’t overthink it too much. Something like “Your Name - Letter of Intent” would be fine.

In the letter itself, make sure to include the date of your interview, and – if possible – the name(s) of your interviewer(s).

Whom should I address the letter of intent to?

Using “To Whom It May Concern” is never a great idea. Also avoid sending a letter of intent to the entire admissions committee or to your interviewer(s).

Instead, your letter of intent should ideally be addressed to the Dean of Admissions or Director of Admissions. You’ll probably need to do online research or make a phone call to the school to ensure your letter is addressed appropriately.

How long should a letter of intent 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 schools. 

What exactly should I include in my letter of intent?

  • An expression of gratitude to the school for considering your application
  • Things you appreciate about the school based on your interview day and personal research
  • A clear statement of your intent to attend the school if admitted
  • Updates on your activities since you last communicated with the school
  • Explanation of how your updates and experiences align with the school’s mission and specific offerings
  • What you will contribute to the school’s diversity and student body
  • A second expression of gratitude for considering your application

Is there a letter of intent template I can follow?

Sure - check this one out!

Dear Dean NAME at XYZ School of Medicine,

My name is Jenny Premed (AMCAS ID: __________), and I am a current applicant for your medical program who interviewed on DATE (_/_). Thank you for offering me a place on your waitlist. I really appreciate your continued consideration of my candidacy. I am writing to update you on my recent activities and to detail why XYZ School of Medicine (XYZ-SOM) is undoubtedly my top-choice medical school.

I recently spoke at length with a current XYZ-SOM year 1 student - NAME - to learn more about the XYZ experience. His enthusiasm has fueled my own, and I have come to appreciate current students’ efforts to pass on XYZ-SOM’s values of collaboration, accountability, innovation, inclusivity, wellness, and honesty. 

Over the past three months, I have continued serving my community as one of the founding board members of the Health Outreach Project (HOP). Through my work, I have seen the importance of providing mental support to seniors in low-income housing projects due to its interconnectivity with their physical health. In retrospect, I have also become more conscious about my own well-being. Besides meditating every morning, I remind myself to enjoy the present moment and appreciate the tranquility of my life. Medical school will be an arduous journey, but keeping a healthy mindset will alleviate my stress and allow me to focus on my academic development. Through XYZ’s efforts to address mental wellness and physician burnout, I hope to become a mental health advocate for my future classmates, while also contributing to disease-specific research on wellness under Dr. NAME and Dr. NAME. Additionally, XYZ’s curriculum provides a wide range of perspectives on wellness, including a Healthy Food Preparation course, which I am highly interested in learning about and integrating into my self-care routine. 

As part of HOP, I have been mentoring new members and helping them to develop their leadership skills to ensure the continuity of this community project. In a separate capacity, I was recently elected as the founding president of my local chapter of Volunteer Around the World. This position allows me to draw on my outreach experiences in Haiti and Ghana to lead a medical mission on my own. As such, I am looking forward to constructing a global health outreach agenda, recruiting passionate individuals, and exercising my leadership skills. As someone who has traveled in multiple continents, I have experienced diverse healthcare systems firsthand as a patient, and secondhand as I visited local hospitals and clinics during my travels. I soaked up the pros and cons of each system to help me reflect on the current medical system in the U.S. As such, I want to modify this perspective through the Distinguish Global Health Internship available at XYZ-SOM. I would also like to pursue XYZ’s dual MD/MPH program and learn to address health disparities around the globe systemically. 

However, what most attracts me to XYZ-SOM is its diverse, inclusive, and conscientious culture. My friend/mentor, NAME, has repeatedly emphasized his appreciation for the tight-knit community and great mentoring system between students and faculty, an environment where I am certain that I can flourish and contribute. If admitted to XYZ, I will accept the offer without hesitation. I am certain that I will make a great addition to XYZ-SOM and its surrounding community. 

If you have any questions, please contact me via EMAIL@ADDRESS.COM. All in all, I sincerely appreciate your time and continued consideration. 


Jenny Premed

AMCAS ID: __________

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

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