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How to make or break your college search

envelope and noteWhen I was a teenager, my friends and I laughed at the phrase “good manners.” We knew there was a famous book by Emily Post on the rules of etiquette that offered instructions on how “polite” people were supposed to act.

The book, we’d heard, was filled with directions on how to select the proper champagne flute and where to place a caviar spoon. That was all we needed to know. Etiquette and manners were for the very rich and the very old. It had nothing to do with us. Obviously.

Despite this irreverent attitude, most of us complied with our parents’ basic instructions on how to behave. We said, “please pass the salt,” at the dinner table (instead of simply reaching), shook hands when introduced to strangers and wrote thank-you notes when friends or relatives sent us birthday gifts. We grudgingly accepted these minimal rules. They were easy enough to follow, and they seemed a small price to pay for our future admission into the adult world.

The new—but surprisingly familiar—etiquette

That was back in the days of embossed stationary and thank you cards—before email, texting and other advancements. Emily Post is long dead, though a revised version of her book lives on. And there is no doubt etiquette will never be the same.

I’m all for that. Who really needs champagne flutes or caviar spoons? And if someone chooses to kiss me on both cheeks, or bow instead of shaking my hand, that’s just fine.

But there is a certain kind of good manners that’s just as important now as it ever was. It’s not about material possessions. It’s about how we treat each other and about our ability to empathize. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how much this matters.

Thanking another person is a prime example of good manners—the kind that will never go out of style. The technology many change as we shift from paper to the telephone to email. But the principle remains the same.

Perhaps your English teacher helped you with an essay, staying after school just to offer you encouragement. Or maybe a friend of your father’s helped you snag an interview for an internship or a summer job. If so, did you thank that person and let him or her know how much that effort meant to you?

Congratulations, if you did. You may be in the minority.

Two words that can make or break your college search

Sadly, many people today don’t bother to say “thank you”—on paper, in an email or in any other medium. Some were never taught manners as children. They truly don’t know a “thank you” is expected. Others are filled with good intentions but forget to carry through. Then there are the folks who believe they’re entitled to whatever the world offers, while owing nothing in return. Even a few sentences are too much to muster.

Whatever reasons these people may have, in the end it doesn’t matter. They are simply being rude.

Those they forget to thank will notice the omission. They may feel hurt, disappointed or annoyed. Probably they will conclude their efforts were not valued. It’s unlikely they will offer to help again.

Manners 101 for college applicants

As a high school student who’ll be applying to college, you’ll find you need the support and assistance of many people while you move through the process. Besides teachers and counselors, you’ll probably interact with secretaries, receptionists, interviewers and admissions officers at the colleges you are applying to.

Each person you deal with along the way has the power to help or hinder you. If you treat him or her with appreciation and respect, they’ll remember that. If you treat them like a vending machine, they’ll remember that too.

Be polite and considerate with every person you encounter. If someone has been generous with his or her time, send a thank you note. Let them know you’re appreciative.

You already know what to say

Some people stress over what to say in a thank-you note. That’s one reason books like “Emily Post’s Etiquette” and the more arch “Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior” are still big sellers. But whether you’re writing a card, a letter or an email, there’s no need to stress.

Here’s a little secret about thank-you notes: the substance is not as important as the sentiment. If your thanks are heartfelt, that will be evident. (Proofread carefully for errors, of course. One must always proofread!)

Good manners can’t get a terrible student into a highly selective school. But bad manners can knock a good student out of the running. And when two students of comparable academic merit are being weighed against one another, manners can make the difference. Why? College admissions officers are human beings too. It will help your case if they remember you warmly.

If you learn good manners now it will help you in your college search. More importantly, it will help you throughout your life. The human touch will always matter.

– The College Strategist