NRMP Rules concerning correspondence (that are sadly and awkwardly broken all the time):
- A program may not ask you how you will rank them
- You may not ask a program how you will be ranked
- It is perfectly okay and common to tell a program how you feel, and some programs may send you love letters as well.
- No coercion!
Talking to programs
The amount of contact expected of applicants in order to show interest varies widely across programs. Some programs demand to know that you want to be there (using the words #1), others will flat out inform you that they rank the applicants accordingly to how they want them (with no regard to where they fall on the applicant’s rank list). And of course some may say that and have it be a boldfaced lie. There are egos involved. Be cognizant of program personalities and cater to them when possible.
If you tell a program they are your #1, it’s best to do so late in the season after you are absolutely sure. Do not lie. Don’t be that guy/gal.
If you aren’t sure, you can express “strong” interest but save #1 for your real #1.
Keep in mind however the reality that most seasoned program directors shouldn’t/won’t take these comments at face value. They’ve been lied to so much that they believe no one. Your lies may hurt the chances of future students from your school, however. Likewise, you should continue to doubt even the most sycophantic of praise until it’s confirmed by match day. There are no benefits to being duped.
Thank You Notes
It is customary to send thank you notes, though it is unlikely that this correspondence generally makes a significant difference. It’s simply polite to thank people for taking the time to speak with you. Typically, one should write thank you notes at the very least to the Program Director and Program Coordinator, though it seems most applicants still also write letters to all interviewers. Write them and send them immediately after your interview, as the interactions will be freshest in your mind. And it’s polite.
You may not want to bother. And that would be okay in most circumstances. However, an anesthesia program director once told me he doesn’t rank anyone who doesn’t write him a post-interview thank you letter. He especially likes Christmas cards. This is a dramatic (and ridiculous) example, clearly, but I found that helpful motivation.
To facilitate writing personal thank you notes, it is advisable to jot very brief notes after your interview encounters. By doing so, you can specifically reference interesting (wink wink) conversation topics you had with different people. Most people still write thank you notes by hand, but email is becoming more popular. Some programs will express preferences (follow them).
Hearing from programs
Programs vary widely also in how much (if at all) they contact applicants. You may receive emails or phone calls with warm fuzzy feelings of varying significance.
Some programs will outright tell you are “ranked to match” (take with a grain of salt). Some may tell you that you have a job. Others will vaguely tell you that are “ranked competitively” (double grain of salt alert!). People have been burned by even the most specific and seemingly failproof promises.
Some programs do not contact applicants at all and hate the mind games of the match. Do not take silence the wrong way. Simply rank your programs the way you want them, not the way they want you.