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Articles / Applying to College / How Do I Thank the Teachers Who Wrote My Recommendations?

April 9, 2009

How Do I Thank the Teachers Who Wrote My Recommendations?

I have been fortunate enough to be accepted to several colleges. Is it customary for students to thank their teachers who wrote them their recommendations? If so, how should I return their favors of writing my rec letters? Is it normally a card, letter, a small gift? What would be sufficient to let them know that I really appreciated their help? Or is all of this not necessary, and thanking them in person is enough?

It's not "customary" for students to formally thank the teachers who wrote their recommendations, but it should be. This is a time-consuming task that is rarely an official part of a faculty duty-roster. Occasionally students do write notes or even give gifts to their recommenders, but an astounding majority barely offer more than a mumbled, "Thanks"--if that.


A brief note is a perfect form of thanks, but avoid cards and comments that are merely "generic." In other words, instead of letting Hallmark do the talking for you or simply saying something like, "I really appreciate the time you took from your busy schedule to write my college references," add a couple sentences that are more personal: e.g., "From the moment you said you were a Seinfeld fan, the very first day of AP Chem, I knew that I was going to love being in your class and that you would be a special teacher ..."

You don't have to get a gift unless something springs immediately to mind. For instance, if the teacher is always expressing love for a particular sports team, then a t-shirt, cap, key chain, refrigerator magnet, etc. might be in order. If the teacher is a self-proclaimed chocoholic, a small box of great candy would be perfect. But, as a former teacher myself, I assure you that a present is not required. I used to haul home box loads of Avon perfume and scented soaps, but the only gifts I really remember were those that were truly tailored to me. For instance, the students in my classroom used to laugh about how the posters on the wall were always falling down, so one girl gave me some heavy-duty gummy gunk that far surpassed the loops of masking tape I ordinarily used. A coffee mug or other small memento from the college you'll be attending would be a cute gift, too, and an apt reminder to your teacher that he or she helped to get you there.

In addition to thanking your teachers, it's a nice touch to officially thank anyone else who also went the extra mile during your college process. This could include your guidance counselor and perhaps a guidance office secretary. If someone in any office of admission also went out of the way for you, a note would be a nice gesture as well. Then, of course, there are your parents. I suspect that they would be very moved by a formal thank-you from you ... perhaps shocked as well, but definitely touched. ;)

Although you may be one of only few students who sends formal thank-yous to those who aided your college process, it's definitely the right thing to do. Teachers, especially, will notice and appreciate your thoughtfulness, and not only is this good karma for you, but also you never know when you may need their recommendations yet again.

Good luck to you as you make your final college choice and the big transition that follows.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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