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The Power of Giving Thanks in the MBA Admission Process

I still have the thank you note from the first student I admitted to Penn in 1990 (pictured here). It means a lot to me. Then, because it allowed me to see that I was someone that students could trust. And now, because it reminds me how powerful it is for the person across the table (or the zoom channel) to feel my sincere belief in their dreams and potential.

A thank you note really does matter. It also sends the message to the MBA admissions committee that you’re someone who isn’t too busy to pause, reflect, and offer a sincere appreciation.

For those of you on the other side of the MBA interview process, sending a timely, sincere thank you note to your interviewer should be top of mind. But don’t stop there. Include one to any student you connected with, as well as to any alumni who found 15 minutes amid their busy schedules to Zoom with you and offer advice or insights. Go out of your way to cultivate gratitude at every interval of the MBA admissions process.

“When I was at Cornell, I received five handwritten cards from students I met at MBA Fairs,” says Fortuna’s Randall Sawyer, former Assistant Dean of Admissions at Cornell Johnson. “One in particular I kept on my desk as it so impressed me. Its author was the last in line, and when she got to me, the fair had ended 45 minutes earlier and we were the last two in the ballroom. Our discussion ended up changing her MBA school choice and plans, and she thanked me with a card. In the end, she had great options and chose Cornell. She was an outstanding student and member of our community!”

That said, email is efficient and expected – even advantageous in the right circumstances. For example, Columbia alumni interviewers can send their feedback same-day, and if they don’t have your artful thank you in their email inbox it might be a missed opportunity to reinforce the high points of your conversation.

“If someone is very impressed by their interaction with you, they can send an extra note to admissions — that’s certainly been done before,” says Fortuna’s Karen Hamou, a CBS alum and former Deloitte Consulting recruiting lead. “Just remember it works the same in the reverse.”

The MBA admissions process is a deeply relational experience. From your exchange with the receptionist to a coffee chat with a student or chance encounter with a faculty member, every interaction counts.

For example, when I was acting director of Wharton admissions, we had a fabulous receptionist. Like other administrative staff, she was on the front lines of interactions with prospective students. If a candidate wasn’t gracious to her, wasn’t polite — or worse, dismissive or patronizing — she let us know about it, and I really appreciated it.

Art of the Thank You Note: 3 Key Tips

Because a gracious thank you note never goes out of style, here are 3 key tips from Fortuna’s Brittany Maschal, a former member of admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton & Johns Hopkins.

1. Keep your audience in mind.
This means erring on the side of formal to signal respect. Avoid emoticons, casual acronyms (LOL), and chat/text shorthand (u/you, r/are, def/definitely). No matter how comfortable you feel with an interviewer, alum, or student ambassador, always treat them with the same respect you would treat the CEO of your company (or your grandmother – whoever inspires you to better manners).

2. Use an appropriate greeting & closing.
(Dear Elizabeth; Hi, Elizabeth; Dear Dr. Martin). While some people skip the salutation, your message can feel curt, unfriendly or overly familiar without it. Likewise, a closing remark will make your email message more polite (All the best, Best regards, Cheers, Sincerely – and my favorite – Thank you).

3. Scan before sending to check for grammar, spelling, and tone.
Write clear and concise sentences. Especially when sending from your phone, scan your message for tone to ensure it doesn’t sound demanding, brusque, or negative – your tone always conveys a nonverbal message. And if you’re pecking out a message via iPhone, fine, but do be sure to remove the footer signaling a cell phone send.

For more advice on how to maximize your pre- and post-interview interactions with schools, view my short video strategy session above with Fortuna’s Karen Hamou.

Updated November, 2022

Fortuna Admissions Director Judith Silverman Hodara is former acting director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School. Her latest article includes Advice for the Wharton TBD Prompt. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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