Recommendation letters are vital to your graduate school application. It's likely that you will need at least three letters and it can be hard to determine who to ask. Once you have professors in mind, they agree to write a letter, and your application is submitted, your next step should be a simple thank you note showing your appreciation.
Letters of recommendation are a lot of work for professors and they are asked to write a number of them each year. Unfortunately, the majority of students don't bother with a follow-up.
Why Send a Thank-You Note?
At its most basic, taking a few minutes to send a thank-you note is a common act of courtesy for someone who has taken the time to do you a favor, but it can also work to your benefit.
A thank-you note helps you stand out from the other students and will help keep you in the writer's good graces. After all, you may need a letter again in the future for another school or even a job.
An effective grad school recommendation letter explains the basis for the evaluation. It may be based on your performance in the classroom, your work as a research assistant or a mentee, or any other interaction you had with faculty.
Professors often take great pains to write letters that honestly discuss your potential for graduate study. They will take the time to include specific details and examples that illustrate why you're a good fit for the graduate program. They will also consider other factors to suggest that you will be successful in grad school and beyond.
Their letters are not simply saying, "She'll do great." Writing helpful letters takes time, effort, and considerable thought. Professors do not take this lightly and they're not required to do it. Whenever someone does something of this magnitude for you, it's nice to show your appreciation for their time and attention.
Offer a Simple Thank You
Graduate school is a big deal and your professors are playing an important role in helping you get there. A thank you letter need not be lengthy or overly detailed. A simple note will do. You can do this as soon as the application is in, though you might also want to follow-up once you're accepted to share your good news.
Your thank you letter can be a nice email. It's certainly the quicker option, but your professors may also appreciate a simple card. Mailing a letter is not out of style and a handwritten letter has a personal touch. It shows that you wanted to spend extra time to thank them for the time they put into your letter.
Now that you're convinced that sending a letter is a good idea, what do you write? Below is a sample but you should tailor it to your situation and your relationship with your professor.
A Sample Thank You Note
Dear Dr. Smith,
Thank you for taking the time to write on my behalf for my graduate school application. I appreciate your support throughout this process. I will keep you updated about my progress in applying to graduate school. Thanks again for your assistance. It is much appreciated.