Everything You Need to Know About Update Letters For Medical School

October 11, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 10/11/23

Thinking about writing an update letter? We’ll break down how to craft the perfect one for med school.

Applying to medical school is a long, complicated, and involved process. By now, you have completed your primary application, secondary application, and medical school interview. Just getting this far is a huge accomplishment in itself, so you should feel proud of your journey. 

Now comes what may be even more stressful and worrisome than all of the work and preparation you have completed over months and months: waiting to hear about your acceptance to your dream medical school. 

This is where the update letter for medical school comes into play. Writing an update letter for medical school alleviates some of the stress of waiting because it allows you another opportunity to let medical school admissions committees know that you are still interested in their medical school and that you are continuing to work on your professional growth.

In this blog, we will discuss the purpose of the update letter for medical school, when to send an update letter, and topics to include in a strong update letter. We will also review a sample of a medical school update letter and go over what makes it effective.

Infographic explaining the purpose of update letters, when to send it, and how to write them.

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Purpose of the Update Letter for Medical School

The purpose of the update letter for medical school is multifaceted. At its core, an effective update letter accomplishes the following:

  1. It reminds medical schools that you still exist.
  2. It mentions any new and relevant professional achievements since submitting your application.
  3. It makes clear and concise connections between your new activities and the medical school’s mission.

With that said, it is important to note that not all medical schools will accept additional correspondence like update letters from applicants outside of the required and requested application materials. Some medical schools explicitly state that they will discard additional correspondence that isn’t required or directly requested.

It’s a good idea to check with the medical schools to which you have applied to make sure you follow all medical school application requirements, including their guidelines for best practices after you apply.

After all, you don’t want to irritate admissions committees by not following their specified directions regarding their medical school application process.

Knowing the difference between update letters, letters of interest, and letters of intent is essential as you write your med school letters. The update letter is unique in that it primarily focuses on your self-improvement, your growth mindset, your major accomplishments, and your involvement in professional development that were not included in your primary and secondary applications or your interview.

Update Letter Letter of Interest Letter of Intent
Keeps medical schools informed about your recent activities that were not included in your primary and secondary applications or your interview. Focuses on why the medical school is a perfect fit for you. Is typically sent to one medical school stating that if the medical school accepts you, you will choose that medical school above all the other medical schools to which you have applied.
Connects your recent activities to the medical school’s mission. Connects your values and goals to the medical school’s programs and opportunities.
Focuses on a growth mindset and your self-improvement. Is typically sent only after an update letter is sent and you still have not heard back from the medical school.
Answers the question: What have you been doing since applying to medical school to further your professional development?

The key takeaway is that the update letter for medical school focuses on you and your professional accomplishments since applying. It does not heavily go into the medical school’s programs and opportunities. 

When to Send an Update Letter for Medical School

Assuming your medical schools will accept an update letter, it is generally sent in the following scenarios:

  1. You have already interviewed at the medical school.
  2. You have been waitlisted by the medical school.
  3. You have not yet received a rejection from the medical school.

In other words, you are in limbo awaiting their final decision. (Please keep in mind that if you have received a rejection, you cannot send an update letter to reverse the decision. A rejection is a final decision by the medical school.)

What to Include in Your Update Letter for Medical School

An effective update letter for medical school addresses what you have been doing since applying to medical school that furthers your professional development. This can include activities such as research projects, new honors and awards, any publication accolades, progress or status updates with extracurriculars, a new job, or additional responsibilities you have undertaken at work.

Medical school admissions committees like to see students continuing to pursue their goals. In other words, it is in your best interest to remain proactive in your development and maintain a growth mindset.

Because getting into top medical schools is highly competitive, you will increase your chances for acceptance if you diligently move forward with your activities and avoid becoming stagnant. 

For your update letter, be sure that the information you are including is new and relevant to the medical school’s mission. You can certainly draw upon the information you already included in your application and/or interview, but make sure that your update letter focuses on new developments and updates.

You don’t want your update letter to rehash the same information that can be found in your application. Rather, think of the update letter as a supplemental document that adds important news about your recent activities.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind about your update letter for medical school:

  1. Be confident and enthusiastic about your recent activities and professional development.
  2. Balance your confidence with humility and grace. For example, avoid being boastful or arrogant, and don’t embellish your activities. Be humble about what you have recently learned and what you have left to learn.
  3. Be gracious to the medical school admissions committees. You don’t have to gush over them taking the time to read your update letter, but do be mindful of your overall tone and language. 
  4. As a courtesy, keep your update letter short—no longer than one page in length—and simple.

Ultimately, your update letter should convey your dedication to your medical career, demonstrate your achievements, personal growth, and alignment with the institution's values and mission.

Sample of an Update Letter for Medical School

Now that we have established some preliminary guidelines to keep in mind for your update letter, let’s go over a sample of an effective update letter for medical school. We will then review the qualities that make this update letter truly stand out.

Dear Stanford University School of Medicine Admissions Committee:
My name is First-Name Last-Name [AMCAS ID: 123456789] and I am a medical school applicant who interviewed at Stanford University School of Medicine on [XX/XX/XXXX]. I would like to provide you with an update on my ongoing research, recent publications, and latest activities.
My goal is to become a skilled physician-investigator in biomedical research and patient care. Since my interview, I have continued my position as a research assistant and have had several articles accepted in peer-reviewed publications:
Publication #1 - Follow APA format when citing your publication.
Publication #2 - Follow APA format when citing your publication.
Publication #3 - Follow APA format when citing your publication.
I have also begun to volunteer at my local homeless shelter, where I have gained a newfound passion for health equity for underprivileged and impoverished patient populations. Working at the homeless shelter has taught me that the disparity in public health and treatment based on socioeconomic status must be addressed, and I am driven to pursue biomedical research that will help decrease global human suffering.
Additionally, I trained to compete in a semi-professional bodybuilding competition, and ranked third in my region. This activity has cultivated my self-sufficiency and discipline, traits that are important to establish early on and continue for medical students and physicians. 
Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this letter. I appreciate your continued interest in my candidacy at Stanford University School of Medicine.
First-Name Last-Name
AMCAS ID: 123456789

What makes this an effective update letter? Let’s break it down from beginning to end.

The Salutation

Specifying the medical school by name and addressing the admissions committee extends common courtesy and shows professionalism. Avoid the generic and overused “To Whom It May Concern” as that can convey a lack of interest and disregard of the medical school. In other words, if you genuinely want to be accepted by that medical school, take the care and extra step of personalizing your salutation.

The Introduction

Right away, the introduction includes the applicant’s name and AMCAS ID number. The introductory paragraphs immediately connect the applicant with the medical school. The applicant ties in relevant research experience with the medical school’s program.

The Body Paragraphs

Notice how the body paragraphs focus on the applicant’s ongoing and new professional developments. The applicant also includes personal hobbies and endeavors that clearly and concisely show the desirable qualities of a strong candidate and physician.

When writing your update letter, we suggest that the majority of the letter focuses on your professional growth. You can include a couple of personal achievements in your update letter, but just like in the sample, keep your personal achievements concise and only include them if they are relevant to the medical school’s mission.

The Closing/Signature

The closing neatly wraps up the applicant’s interest and goals. The signature includes the applicant’s AMCAS ID number, which is helpful to the admissions committee as they receive thousands of applications.

Overall Comments

The tone of this sample update letter is gracious, professional, and humble. It strikes just the right balance of confidence and humility. It highlights the applicant’s continued interest in the medical school and links that to the applicant’s trackable progress. It provides concrete, specific examples of the applicant’s recent and new activities. It is just the right length that results in effective communication—longer than a few vague lines, but no longer than a page. 

Med School Update Letter FAQs

Still have questions about update letters? Take a look at our answers to these frequently asked questions.

1. What If I Don’t Have That Many New Professional Activities to Discuss in an Update Letter?

Your update letter shouldn’t be long at all. Stick to one page in length or just under one page. Medical school admissions committees have many primary and secondary application materials to read, so be courteous of their time. After all, an update letter is not an application requirement. 

It is simply a gesture on your part to reach out to medical schools that have not yet given you their final decision. Furthermore, an effective update letter will prioritize quality over quantity. Specify the activities that are relevant and detail how they connect to the medical school. Sticking with this formula will ensure that your update letter includes all of your pertinent talking points.

2. How Do I Send My Update Letter to Medical Schools?

Again, please verify with the medical schools to which you have applied that they accept update letters. If they do, you can find instructions for sending your update letter on their website or secondary portal. 

If you have the option of uploading the update letter using their secondary portal, we suggest that the file type is a PDF to keep formatting consistent. Always follow each medical school’s specific application requirements. For example, The University of Colorado Boulder has application tips for sending update letters.

3. How Many Med School Update Letters Can I Send?

You don’t want to annoy the admissions committee by sending excessive correspondence outside of their required application materials. We recommend sending one update letter when applicable (remember, in the cases where you are in limbo, and the medical schools allow update letters).

There are some medical schools that allow up to three update letters. Some medical schools allow letters of interest and letters of intent in addition to update letters. Please check with the medical school to which you have applied to ensure that you follow their application instructions.

4. Is There Anything I Should Avoid in My Med School Update Letter?

Avoid discussing the medical school’s admissions timetable or long passage of time. For example, you don’t want to say something like, “It has been several months since I interviewed at XYZ Medical School.” This sounds negative and slightly accusatory that they are taking too long with their final decision. It is best to be gracious and patient. Furthermore, you don’t want to waste your limited space (one page) on irrelevant or unhelpful topics.

Avoid sounding too casual and vague. Your update letter should maintain the same level of professionalism and detail that was in your primary and secondary applications. Your update letter is a supplemental document in addition to your application, so it should be regarded with the same attention and care.

Avoid listing too many hobbies. It is acceptable to include one or two as long as they are relevant, but you don’t want the entire update letter to consist of hobbies and personal endeavors rather than concrete and trackable progress in your professional growth.

Avoid sending an update letter that’s too short. It is better to send no update letter at all than just a few disinterested and vague lines.

Avoid sending an update letter that’s too long. Your update letter should be one page maximum. Remember, an update letter is supplemental to your primary and secondary applications and interview. It should not be written like a major component of your medical school application. 

5. Do Update Letters Really Make a Difference for Getting Into Med School?

This is really hard to definitively judge, and certainly this is on a case-by-case basis, but let’s take a step back and consider some key things. First, if medical schools indicate that they indeed accept update letters, then you can be assured that admissions committees will read them and take them into consideration when they make their final decision.

At the very least, an update letter can reinforce your interest well after your interview, and may while renew their interest in you as a candidate. It can encourage them to review your application more closely. Secondly, if your update letter lists professional achievements that are of value and in alignment with the medical school’s program, then coupled with your primary and secondary applications, it may just be enough for admissions committees to move forward with you.

You can research real examples of prospective medical students receiving invitations to another interview, or offers of acceptance, based on what they achieved in their update letters.

6. How Can I Get Help Writing My Update Letter to Medical Schools?

If you are struggling with things like grammar, sentence structure, or tone, have another set of eyes look over it. This can be a trusted colleague, mentor, teacher, or friend. Proofreading will ensure that you are sending an update letter that is free of errors. 

If you need assistance with knowing what content to include to make your update letter effective and concise, get in touch with us today to help with all of your medical school admissions consulting needs. We are here for you every step of the way!

Final Thoughts

You are so close in getting into your dream medical school. Sending an effective update letter may help in getting you closer. With our guide on writing an update letter for medical school, you will succeed in communicating your continued excellence. 

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