For most high school seniors, the active part of school applications is winding down. Now is the time for waiting. While you're waiting to hear from schools and thinking about how to choose from your acceptances, take some time to write some thank you notes. Write one to everyone who has done something for you along the way: teachers who wrote recommendation letters, counselors who sent off transcripts, college admissions personnel who answered questions, people who took time to interview you. Everybody. They gave some of their time to help you, and you should thank them if you haven't already.
Do it in writing. I hope you remembered to thank people along the way in person, but also send a written note. While there are plenty of people out there who still insist that you should only send hand-written thank you notes, most of the time email is really just fine. If you have less-than-great handwriting or don't happen to have good stationary ready to go, then email is probably better. Be specific in what you're thanking them for: "thank you for taking the time to write and send recommendation letters," or "thank you again for the time you spent with me in our interview." Also let them know that you appreciate their time and expertise.
Do it individually, not in batches. No matter how alike they may sound, send every thank you note individually. Use the person's name. I can tell you from experience that being included on a "thanks to all of you" email with 11 other people doesn't particularly feel like being appreciated. And on that note, even if the only reason you're sending a thank you is because your mother is making you, don't tell people that.
Gifts can be tricky. You may be tempted to include a thank you gift. Honestly, you probably shouldn't. If you're sending a gift to a person at a university while your application is still being processed, it can look like an attempted bribe. Same goes for giving a gift to a teacher before they've sent out the recommendation. If you decide that it is appropriate to give a small gift, then be thoughtful about it. Their are very few adults in the world thinking "I sure wish someone would bring me another coffee mug!" People who don't drink coffee may be tired of receiving Starbucks gift cards. People on diets probably don't want candy, and a huge percentage of adults think of themselves as on diets. While there may actually be some teachers or conuselors who want a piece of leftover birthday cake or your first attempt to bake cookies, they probably don't think it's a good thank you gift. Unless you know the person well enough to really know something that they want, you should probably just stick to a note.
Don't wait. You're thanking the person for their time and effort, not your results. So don't wait until you hear back from colleges and only send thank you notes to people associated with the ones who accepted you. (Yes, I've seen students do this.)
Follow up. If a teacher, counselor, or other adult helps you in any way with a college application, follow up and let them know how it went. I've had students who I spent several hours with looking over essay drafts, writing recommendation letters, or giving advice who never told me where they ended up going. Don't get people emotionally invested and then leave them hanging!
If it helps, here is an example of a basic thank you note:
Dear Ms. Washington,
Thank you again for writing recommendation letters for me to Stanford and the University of Alabama. I know you don't write them for everyone, and I'm honored you would spend time to do that for me. Wherever I end up going to school, I know that my experience in your class will have me prepared. I'll let you know when I hear back from the colleges!
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