To my understanding, the purpose of an update is to 1) express your continued interest in a school, and 2) provide substantial updates (i.e., publications, awards, achievements, new grades, or other information not included in your secondary or primary application). Additionally, you might want to send in another letter of recommendation or a letter of intent (LOI; i.e., a letter stating your commitment to ONE school in which you would enroll if you were accepted).
Please keep in mind that while most schools accept updates, some do not. Moreover, your update may or may not be read. Sending in an update could increase the chances of your application being reviewed, but realistically, not by a lot. Thousands of other applicants are likely sending updates, however, if you have something to say, better to send one in than not.
When should you send an update? When you have something important to share! In terms of time, most people I know sent in, up to two updates total, at these arbitrary times:
- 3-4 months after submitting a secondary and when you haven’t received an interview interview
- 1-2 months before the interview decision is released
- 2-3 months before the interview cycle for that school ends
Additionally, if you are waitlisted, you should consider sending in an LOI or update shortly after accepting a waitlist spot or around when the school expects the waitlist to move.
How should you send in an update? Each school has a policy on updates, and be sure to respect it.
What to include in an update: As you write, be sure to invoke a traditional letter format and use formal, polite language. Address the letter to the Dean of Admissions (which is different from the school, usually), and be sure to express your gratitude for their time and consideration at the end.
One typical outline of a letter is the following:
- Begin with a brief overview of the information included (e.g., publication, job update, and continued interest).
- Dive into each of the points, in parallel.
- End with a few sentences on why you’re still interested in the school. Be specific why you are enthusiastic about the school and why you would be a good fit.
- Thank the reader for their time.
Letters should be kept to one-page; therefore, be brief and effective with your descriptions. Be sure to have a friend or mentor proofread the letter. If you’re re-using updates, make sure you triple-check that you are sending the right letter to the right school.