When to Update a Medical School Application

While there are practical reasons to update the admissions dean of a medical school where you have applied, there are some instances when it can actually work against you. For example, once you have a letter of acceptance or rejection, there is no need to contact that particular school. After all, a decision has already been made.

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However, if you are still on hold, there are several reasons why you’d want to update the admissions dean.


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Publications and Awards

As an admissions dean, I would want to hear from a candidate who just presented his or her research findings at a national meeting – likely by Zoom this year – or who recently published in a journal. I would also want to know if a candidate earned a significant award, such as Phi Beta Kappa, or was featured in a published article. The article might be in an alumni magazine or even a newspaper.

One of our candidates started a nongovernmental organization, which we already knew about from his application and interview. But after a magazine featured a wonderful article about his accomplishments as the founder, with quotes from others who worked with him, he moved off the hold list and onto the accepted list.

Keep in mind that this update would likely not have helped him much if his ranking wasn’t already high. Because he had the highest committee vote of those on the hold list, his update brought him an immediate offer.

Grades and GPA

If your GPA is lower than what you had hoped and you receive a string of A’s to add to your transcript, by all means, send an update. However, if your latest grades don’t affect your GPA, don’t send an update. Here’s the exception: Send an update if you complete a required course for the med school after you submitted your application.

This year there may be extenuating circumstances. Some universities closed before going online and grades were not given last spring. If your transcript was incomplete, immediately ask your school to send an update with grades. It is not your fault or their fault the pandemic occurred, but it does take extra work to be sure all the gaps are filled.

MCAT Score

Once in a great while a student submits an application early – a good decision – but is uncertain if he or she will take the MCAT again. I recall a candidate who did not indicate this uncertainty on her application or during the interview. When the new score was later sent to the school, it was too late for her to be reconsidered. Had the school known to wait, they might have done so.

My guess is that the applicant decided to keep it a secret until she knew the score. Sadly, it was too late. It was too bad that so many MCAT test dates were postponed due to the pandemic. I know that many medical schools tried to accommodate and consider those who came in close to the date.

That said, don’t misinterpret that the MCAT is the only component of the application that counts. It is not. However, if your earlier score is fairly low compared to the school’s average and you are planning to take the MCAT again, let the school know to wait.

School Rankings

It can be helpful to advise your number-one school that you would choose them over all others, assuming you’re sincere. I would caution you not to do that with multiple schools. Admissions deans are often good friends and communicate frequently. Your integrity could be in question if you told two schools they were both number one, and I have known that strategy to backfire on an applicant in the residency match.

Activities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There were quite a few applications this year that lacked adequate shadowing or volunteer activity, or that had incompletion of research efforts. If you indicated this on your application and were able to go back and accomplish these plans or found alternative options, let admissions deans know how you creatively demonstrated your effort.

The diligent student is never totally thwarted, and I will bet many premed students found ways to be of service. Maybe you located a new job scribing and shadowing, or running tests in a laboratory. Perhaps you found a humanitarian way to help at a food bank or support a grieving family after the loss of a loved one to COVID-19 or suicide. If you reached out unexpectedly during this troubled time, let the admissions team know how you helped.

A Word of Caution

Beware that by sending superfluous updates, your behavior can be misinterpreted as trying too little too late. Students who overestimate the quality of their med school application or interviews as compared to others often overestimate the value of their updates.

I am aware of multiple applicants – oftentimes they are repeat applicants – to various med schools who lost sight of the appropriateness of their updates. These students can be perceived as a pest by the admissions office staff, a label you want to avoid at all costs.

If you aren’t sure you are being objective about the appropriateness of your update, ask your premed adviser. If you do not have one, ask an admissions officer at your school. Then, whether you are sending an update online, by snail mail or by calling in to the admissions staff, be courteous and ask if your update would help or if it would be overkill. If they hint at the latter, express your gratitude and leave it at that.

Finally, if you do have an appropriate update to submit for 2021 enrollment, now is the time.

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

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