According to a New York Times article, thank-you notes have become a new frontier in the admissions process. Stories abound lately of prospective students sending not just a standard ‘thank you’ message, but that of kitsch – M & Ms in school colors with a quirky message, eye-catching stationary, and even ones from parents of the applicant.
So is the use of a thank-you note – creative or not – going to give you an inside edge and land you an admissions offer from your target school? We asked a few of our consultants their opinions on the matter.
Consultants Dr. Cleo Leung, Nancy Peterson, David Petersam and Dr. Wayne Shelton all weighed in on this subject.
Q: What do you think about the ‘thank-you’ note’s role in the admissions process?
CL: Admissions Officers have so much to read and are also aware of the pressure/time constraints on students in their senior years taking SAT’s, finishing apps, etc that a thank you note is superfluous. Is it a nice thing, sure, but not something that would make or break a case for admission.
NP: Thank-you notes are a nice touch IF the student actually spoke with an admissions representative on campus or spent time talking with a rep at a local event.
DP: At the most basic level, I think it is important to say “thank you” to whoever has helped you in the process – the teachers who write your recommendations, the high school counselor who helps you select schools, the admissions officer who answers your questions, the alum who conducts the interview. It shouldn’t be viewed as a “strategic advantage” to write a thank you note. That diminishes its value. It’s really just common courtesy.
WS: I feel thank you notes are a nice component of the admission process. While on their own they will not influence an admission decision, I think students can practice valuable life skills by expressing their thanks. To follow the lead of the Dean of Admissions at Princeton, I agree that ‘expressing gratitude is a lovely quality.’
Q: Do you feel it is necessary or beneficial? Would it be something you recommend?
CL: I think the thank you note is an additional opportunity to share more of “who you are” to the admissions committee. And it can be as authentic or canned as any other part of the application. It’s not necessary – a student will never be rejected because they didn’t send a letter, but I would still recommend sending a thank you note because it communicates your recognition of the value of another person’s time. And the more personalized you can make it to the time that you spent with that individual, the more meaningful that communication is.
NP: If the student really felt they connected with an interviewer then I would say okay… or maybe to their true first choice indicating that fact, okay… But that’s probably it. Schools just can’t keep too much extra material in the folders or the file cabinets get too full….and many keep supplementary material in separate files anyway, which the admissions officer would only seek out if it was vital to the case. However, Where I felt notes did really help was when it came to the waiting list.
DP: Thank you notes need to be just that, expressions of thanks, to the individuals who provide assistance during the college search process. Interviewers on the college side and teachers and counselors on the high school side are deserving of 5 minutes of thought out expressions of thanks.
WS: Thank-you’s can be beneficial but are not truly necessary.
Q: If a student did decide to do a ‘thank-you’ note, should it be kitschy, or straightforward?
CL: The best ones would thank the person and follow up on something specific that the student learned about the college and found appealing.
NP: Personally, I do not think that thank you notes need to be crafted to stand out or contain “wow” factors. Thank you notes need to be sincere.
DP: I would recommend that a student be as sincere as possible and approach the thank you note from the recipient’s point of you. It’s a “thank you” letter, not a “praise me” letter. So it should thank the individual for very specific things – perhaps in an interview, you talked about a shared interest. Mention that. Perhaps during a campus visit, the admissions counselor arranged for you to sit in on a class. Mention that and why that has stayed with you. Again, you don’t write the letter to “get something” – you write it to say “thank you for your time.” I don’t recommend trying to be creative simply to be creative.
WS: Kitschy stuff is fun to see and makes for a good story, but won’t ultimately decide the fate of any case…and can backfire. An example that did not go over well: a note written so that you had to hold it up to a mirror to read it. Creative, yes – but slightly annoying, too.