Thank-You Notes: The Secret Edge to Winning a ‘Yes’?

Can a well-timed thank-you note be the key to scoring admission into a highly competitive ivy league college or university?  Well, no.  But students should send them anyway.  And here's why:

It is important to remember that during the college application season, there is more to it than just playing the admissions game.  There are real live people who work every day in the admissions office.  They spend this time of year reading stack after stack of applications and essays, largely going un-thanked.  But they are also busy during the 'off-season'.  They are the tour guides who walked you around campus, and the voices on the other end of the phone when you had financial aid questions.  They mailed the application and wrote the university information booklet.  They set up booths at local high schools and made phone calls to potential applicants.  But most of all, they worked as hard as possible to make the application season as smooth as possible.

All of these positions are done largely without thanks.  When I used to conduct university tours, the highlight of the job was the special bulletin board in the office with all of the thank-you notes we had received.  It was a point of great pride for us to be named personally in a note.

None that we received ever helped an applicant to get accepted, unfortunately.  But the gesture is still nice and always very appreciated.  In an era in which students will cross t's and dot i's in special ways if they think it will help get them into college, it seems too many forget about the general maxims of generosity and politeness.  I have even heard students who said that they wanted to send thank-you notes, but were afraid of saying the wrong thing and hurting their chances

Even more distressing are the countless templates and hints online for notes "guaranteed" to help, as if generosity could be manufactured and monetized.

Send a personalized thank-you because you're genuinely grateful, not for any sort of competitive edge.  And don't just thank interviewers and tour guides.  Recommendation letter writers, high school counselors, and helpful teachers deserve special praise as well.  A little extra courtesy goes a long way in making someone's day.

Students: write personal, physical thank-you notes to everyone who helped you along the way.  And parents: encourage your son or daughter to write them, but also send out a few notes yourself.  We at the tour office loved a good thank-you from a grateful parent amidst the wave of frustrated and angry ones.  It may not help anyone get accepted to college, but it will make you a better person.

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Thank you letters are a dying art. With the advent of e-mail, twitter, IM, and other instant forms of communication, people just forget about the good old favorite paper thank you note!

- Thank You Letters, 03/20/11 at 9:28 pm

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