Update letters are not a required part of the medical school or PA school admissions cycle. So technically, you should not be penalized for not sending any additional letters to the schools. Please check with the schools you have applied to on their websites because they will often communicate when and how they would like to hear from applicants. Keep in mind some schools DO NOT want you to send them any additional information beyond the primary and secondary applications. Just like everything else during the application process, the desire to hear from applicants is variable between schools.
Update letters and Letters of Interest serve the same purpose – demonstrating an interest in attending that school. A good time to send them is when it has been a few months since communicating with the school and enough time has passed to have new and relevant information about your candidacy to update them on – academic achievements, additional volunteer or clinical experiences, awards, research projects, or other noteworthy developments. Typically, a few months after submitting your secondary essays and before you receive a decision from the school. If you are looking for a general guideline – 2 update letters in a cycle should be sufficient. One in October/November and an additional one in February. In the Fall you can target any or all programs you have not heard from or those where you have been placed on hold for an interview invite. There is NO need to send an update to a school that has already rejected you. In February, you can be a bit more targeted depending on how your cycle is going, you may choose to only reach out to “high value” schools where you would really like a chance to interview. They should be limited to less than a page (about 3 paragraphs) with 2 paragraphs being updates/reflections on your growth or competency development since secondary essays and a last paragraph demonstrating your interest, “mission fit” and desire to interview. Needless to say, they should be concise and to the point, professional respectful, authentic, passionate, and addressed to the CORRECT school.
After an interview – generally, schools will instruct you at your interview about how and what they want to hear from you after the interview. Some schools may give you 24 hours to upload an additional update, some may say they want to hear from you every 3 weeks. If they don’t tell you, it is reasonable to ask: “How would you like me to stay in touch with you after the interview?”
The one thing everyone should do is send a thank you note.
If you get waitlisted – again, check with the school about how and when they would like you to communicate. This is when a “letter of intent” comes into play. If you are waitlisted at your first-choice school it is reasonable to tell them that if they accept you, you will 100% attend their program. However, you can only send this to one school and you better mean it. They should be concise, and reemphasize your passion for the program and your mission fit. These letters are most effective or “believable” toward the end of the cycle when schools start making decisions off their waitlist and you have clarity on what your choices are – which for the medical school cycle is going to be in April. This helps schools meet their yield without having to go through their whole waitlist and typically will only have an impact on a school with an unranked waitlist.
Keep it simple. Update the school to show your interest. Do not overdo it – only share meaningful updates that connect you to the school’s mission. Send a letter of intent if you are on an unranked waitlist you are hoping to get off of.