The Thank You After the Letter (of Recommendation)

Letters of recommendation act as a means of introduction to a person’s work ethic, character, unique abilities, and personal or academic strengths. These letters accompany applications for employment, college admission, and scholarship monies. In some cases, these letters are highly regarded. Instructions and insights to these important documents, including sample letters, are included in my book Celebrate High School.

What happens after a letter of recommendation is written and submitted? What constitutes an appropriate thank you for someone who has taken personal time to speak on behalf of an applicant?

I have been on both sides of the letter.

As a mom walking alongside young adults who have sought internships, employment, leadership positions, college admission, and scholarships it was important for me to know and understand the letter of recommendation process—from inquiry to thank you. Gaining that knowledge, I could more effectively coach and encourage my young adults.

Having walked this path several times with my young adults, I found each experience unique and in large part, dependent on the young adult’s relationship with the recommender. Considering many aspects we were able to tailor the communication, inquiry, and thank you to each situation. Therefore, our plans of action did not follow any protocol, only our discernment and determination of what we felt was appropriate for each individual.

When our son sought a letter of character recommendation from a person with whom our family had interacted for several years—which included an influential relationship with our son—we decided a gift card to a favorite restaurant should accompany our son’s hand-written letter. There were years of conversations and meetings put forth on behalf of our young adult.

When our son sought a letter of academic recommendation from an online instructor (as required by the university) with whom he had only a semester worth of interaction—though she had commented often on our son’s ability and her confidence in his character—he thanked her with a sincere email. With only an email for communication, he was limited in his choices to show appreciation.

As a person who helps young adults achieve their goals, I am often asked to write letters of recommendation and scholarship. I am honored to fill this role in a young person’s life, and honestly, the best compensation has been a note of thanks and a follow up as to outcome of the opportunity.

Walking alongside a young adult, you may be asked for ideas in regards to showing appreciation toward a person who writes a recommendation.


  • First and foremost, express gratitude. Though letter writers are often honored to speak on a student’s behalf, gratefulness is always esteemed. Express thankfulness for the writer’s thoughtful comments as well as the time set aside to give attention to the letter. In addition, this person, having impacted the young adult may be of help in the future. In fact, most of the people who have written letters of recommendation for my children have indeed maintained friendships with us, some providing future employment leads and networking scenarios later.

  • Giving the means of appreciation but  later provide follow up correspondence as to the outcome or impact the letter had on achieving the intended goal. As a writer of recommendation letters, I always wonder whether my efforts were successful; helpful to the young adult’s objective.

  • Adding an explanation of why person is important or has been essential to the young adult’s development or education; a great complement to a handwritten thank you.

  • High school guidance counselors and teachers as well as university professors generally agree that writing recommendations as part of their job as an education professional. Though this shouldn’t determine the means of appreciation, it does deserve consideration.

  • Whether or not a thank you note is the preferred means of gratitude, an in-person delivery or face-to-face word of thanks is often highly regarded and appreciated.

  • Some professionals will not accept gifts, monetary or otherwise. If your young adult presents a gift to the writer and it is returned, be ready to discuss why the young adult shouldn’t be offended by the decline.

What a thrill to watch a young adult of great character, work ethic, and ability obtain something he or she had worked so hard to achieve: winning substantial scholarship, obtaining university admission, being appointed to a military academy. I hope this post has equipped you so that you can experience the same delight.


This blog post is intended to offer an example of personal experience. It is in no way intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Parents own the sole responsibility for the training and education of their children.