I recently got an email from an applicant asking for advice about updating their application. I realized this is a topic that I haven’t discussed here before, so I thought I’d give my two cents. If you haven’t learned, I’ve got opinions about everything!
If you are applying for graduate programs, you probably know that there can be a long stretch between submitting your application and hearing back from the committee. Likely, this is one of your most productive times in the lab and hopefully one of your most successful semesters. You might have had some accomplishments in this time that you’d like to share with the committee (and that the committee would want to hear!). It can be difficult to know 1) whether it is appropriate to update the program admission committee and 2) who you should email.
To answer the first, more important question, I do think that it is helpful to reach out and update admissions committees if you have significant changes in your application. For example, appropriate reasons to contact your committee would be if you have submitted an article for publication or had an article accepted for publication. Publications are tangible examples of your productivity in the lab, and while admissions committees may not expect you to have published before entering graduate school, it certainly doesn’t hurt your application! Another example of an update worth notification would be if you have recently received very strong grades in your fall semester AND if your previous academics weren’t as strong. If you are currently a student, you likely will have submitted your application without this most recent set of grades. Exceptional scores could be meaningful to the committee if they demonstrate an upward trajectory in your performance from a previously less-than-exceptional performance, especially in classes pertinent to the program (i.e. classes in your major). Note that if you have historically done well academically, there no need to notify about another strong semester, because the committee expects that you’ll maintain your high performance in your last year. Finally, if you have been awarded an exceptional honor, the committee might appreciate this. For example, if you were afforded a grant to fund part of your graduate training, if you were awarded a top prize from your undergraduate institution, or if you were granted an oral presentation at a conference following competitive abstract submission, these would all be impressive updates for the committee. Minor honors and awards may not be as meaningful to the committee, so it may not be helpful to reach out unless it is with a really impactful change.
Now, considering how to reach out, I suggest that you send an email to an administrative or faculty member of the admissions committee at the institutions to which you are applying. Email updates may not reach the committee if you send them to a research faculty member not directly affiliated with admissions, especially in umbrella programs that have a more centralized admissions process. You should be able to find a contact via the program website. Look for someone with the title “Admissions Director” or “Program Coordinator”. Your email should be brief and to the point. Indicate your continued interest in the program, state your update briefly, ask them if they can include this in your application, and thank them for their time. It would be wonderful if you could also attach an updated CV or resume for easy attachment to the application.
As some final notes, let me mention that you should really try to limit your inquiries or updates to your programs of interest to only one. And to be honest, you might not receive a response back. While I personally respond to those who email me, other administrators may update your application without notifying you, or they may have already reached a decision about your application that you may not been made aware of yet. However, I do think it is still worth attempting to reach out to the program if you are strongly interested and if you have an update that makes you a more attractive candidate. Why not give it a shot? Especially if you do it in a respectful way with new information! Best of luck, and keep your good questions coming!