Oh, the things you'll do!
It's hard to decide what the hardest part of applying to medical school is. There's the MCAT, countless letters of recommendations, drafts and redrafts of your personal statement, and a torrent of secondaries. After all of that, unfortunately, comes the waiting. Once you've submitted your applications, the ball is out of your court and you are stuck waiting for admissions committees to wade through thousands of applications and get to yours. You may be wondering at what point it is appropriate to reach out to some of your favorite schools and send them an update, or a nudge to consider your application.
Update letters are often combined with 'letters of interest' for schools that have either waitlisted you, or from which you have not heard anything yet. You can take this opportunity to not only give these schools a new reason to consider you, but also possibly give them a reason to open your admission file again. Here are some clear reasons you should send an update letter to a medical school:
1. New Grades or Degrees
If you are still in school during your application year, this is a super easy and clear reason. A stellar semester in school, or the addition of a new degree (ex. a master's during your year off), can only bolster your application and should absolutely be sent to your schools
2. Large-scale Honor or Award
Were you nominated to a prestigious honor society? Published in an exclusive journal? Win a national award? These are things that will help you stand out from the pack and should be reported to medical schools. However, make sure they are rare accomplishments; an award within a small student group or publication in a school newsletter, while commendable, may not add much to your already well-constructed file.
3. Any Large Changes from what was Reported on Your Application
It can be more than half a year between when you submit your application and when a school might read your file or invite you for an interview. It is understandable that things might change, and schools understand this. However, any big discrepancies will be noted, and you should give schools a heads up. If you were planning on working a job for a gap year, but switched plans halfway through, let them know. Usually, one or two class switches independently aren't enough to warrant an update letter, but if you drop plans to complete a minor, or switch your Differential Equations and Discrete Algebra classes to African Dance and Italian 1 (everyone wants a relaxing senior spring!), you should let schools know. Schools are used to students lightening up their load towards the end, especially if students have completed all of their requirements, but putting down a lot of really hard-sounding classes on your application and then switching them all to easy ones after you’ve pressed submit just doesn’t give a good impression.
4. If You REALLY Want to Go to a School
If it's nearing the end of a school's interview season (sometime towards late December -> February) but you've heard nothing but crickets from your top-choice school, you can combine an update letter with a letter of interest to possibly give the school a last opportunity to revisit your file. By this point, you've probably had about six months since your AMCAS application, so if nothing meriting an obvious update has occurred, you can use one letter to provide smaller updates on each of the components of your (professional) life at that point, as well as discuss your interest in the school.
Send grades if you're in school, include any exciting things that might have happened in extracurricular activities, or talk about your achievements in your job so far. Link those updates to specific areas that appeal to you for the school in question (DON'T send the same letter to multiple schools!). This will give you enough content for a combined intent/update letter that has the potential to drive schools to look at your application.
Waiting for interviews and decisions is a tough process, but patience pays off and before you know it you'll be gearing up for that white coat!
For more relevant reading, check out these other blog posts, written by our medical school admissions consultants: The Truth About Med School Costs, Do's and Dont's of the Med School Interview, How to Be Pre-Med and Still Enjoy College. Looking to work with Nikita Saxena? Feel free to get in touch! Cambridge Coaching offers private in-person tutoring in New York City and Boston, and online tutoring around the world.