Call it a testament to how carefully students court college admissions offices these days: Thank-you notes have become the new frontier.

Take the one that came with M&Ms to match Lehigh University’s school colors of brown and white, and with the applicant’s name inscribed on the candy. She thanked officials for her interview, adding, “Keep me on the tip of your tongue when reviewing applications.”

Some students buy college stationery for their notes as if to signal they already belong on campus. The flying pigs that adorned a thank-you to Guilford College in North Carolina were certainly eye-catching, as was the smiley face at the end of the note.There are even thank-you notes that are less than thankful, like the one from a young man who announced he had visited Lehigh under parental duress and begged to be rejected. “He said, ‘My parents don’t know I’m sending this letter,”‘ said J. Leon Washington, the dean of admissions and financial aid.

Washington said that he was seeing more thank-you notes than ever, and that Lehigh had received 50 or 60 in just one day last week. The notes are directed not just to admissions officers, but also to college tour guides and alumni who are often the ones most likely to be conducting college interviews these days.

Woody O’Cain, the admissions director at Furman University in South Carolina, said he received thousands each year.

“I laugh and tell people that’s the kind of stuff that replaces the zeros on my paycheck,” O’Cain said. “I realize a lot them are strategic. A guidance counselor says be sure to write a thank-you note because they want it to be added to the file. But there are plenty that are very heartfelt.”

Still, Mary Fitzgerald Hull, a college adviser at a public high school in Maryland, seemed to strike a nerve among college admissions officers longing for authenticity when she asked recently for sample thank-you notes on a Web site for admissions professionals. Hull said one of her students disagreed with her mother on what was appropriate.

“Can you imagine your daughter going to her counselor and saying, ‘My mom and I can’t agree on what should go into a thank-you note?”‘ Dan Rosenfield, an admissions official at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said in an interview.

“To be concerned about, ‘Am I going to say the wrong thing?”‘ Rosenfield continued, “Or ‘Am I going to write a thank-you note that hurts me?’ It just gets crazy.”

Miss Manners, Judith Martin, who writes a syndicated etiquette column that runs in more than 200 newspapers, says she, for one, does not think thanks are needed for a campus visit: “I would never, ever say, ‘Don’t write a thank-you note under any circumstances.’ I don’t want to discourage them. But it is not really a situation that is mandatory.”

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