Human Communication 101: Forgot to send a thank you note to your extern sponsor?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Welcome back to Swat! You’ve scoped out the Sharples menus for the weeks ahead, shopped more classes than your schedule could possibly handle, and gotten over the fact that break is completely and irrevocably over…but, wait. Oh no. You still have to write a thank you note to your externship sponsor.

It should be easy to write, but somehow, it’s so hard to make time to do it. And the longer you go not writing it, the more guilt you feel about the whole thing, which just makes you put it off even more. But don’t worry: I’m here to help.

Extern sponsors are mostly Swatties: they’ve already read Ulysses and they don’t want to read it again. Keep your thank you note short. Start with “Dear [person’s name].” If this sounds ridiculously formal, perhaps use “Hello.” If you called them by their first name throughout the externship, address them as such. If you awkwardly avoided calling them anything because you didn’t know if you should use their first name or not, check back through your past email exchange with them and see how they signed their emails.

For the content of the note, you need to do a few things things: 1) thank them, 2) explain why you’re thanking them, 3) recall an exciting and specific experience to make it clear you’re not a robot. And with extern sponsors, there’s a bonus thing you can do: 4) make a fun comment about Swarthmore!

And to sign off, I typically use “Best.” A lot of people hate on this sign-off and sign-offs in general, but they’re wrong. As a young pre-professional, you should veer on the side of formal.

Now, here’s a sample thank you note:

Dear Amy,

Thank you so much for letting me shadow you during externship week. It was great getting an inside look into the pencil producing industry: I never realized how much thought goes into the design of writing implements. And I don’t think I’ll forget the moment when the pencil maker jammed.

Swarthmore is (thankfully) a lot warmer than Boston was, although we just got our first snow of the season. I hope spring comes soon for all of you!



Notice a few things. Firstly, there’s only one exclamation mark, which shows that the writer is enthusiastic but also has some restraint. Secondly, the writer mentions the weather in the last paragraph. Weather is a beautiful and banal fallback option: even though it’s almost never interesting, you can always talk about it, because it’s always happening. This isn’t the most exciting thank you note in the world, but assuming the writer sent it to their extern sponsor, it’s roughly ten thousand times better than no thank you note at all.

Which brings me to my last point: a late thank you note is better than no thank you note. It doesn’t matter if it’s weeks or months after the externship ended, and it doesn’t matter if you had legitimate reasons for putting it off or not. And if the thought of sending it late fills you with guilt, just think: if you received a late thank you note, would you be filled with rage and indignation at the writer’s tardiness, or would you be happy to realize that they still remembered you after all this time?

That’s all for this week: if you have any questions about communicating with humans on professional or personal matters, please don’t hesitate to send them my way at

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