How to Write an Email
As we turn the corner of the New Year and begin to think about the upcoming college process for the juniors, it is a good time to visit communication etiquette! Whether we like it or not, email has become our common mechanism for communication culturally, and there are ways to do it well and to do it poorly!
I was recently reading this article by Avery Blank with Forbes entitled “How Successful People Write Emails To Get What They Want (That'll Help You Achieve Your Goals),” and I could not help but think about the applications to the college process. I have seen so many students stumble and struggle with appropriate emailing form. Does it hurt them? I can say honestly that I have never had a college admissions representative tell me that they denied a student because of bad email etiquette. However, consider this: what if you commit a gaffe and then do not get admitted. Will you have the wherewithal to be able to see past the gaffe? Do what you can to steer clear of this situation with the following ground rules. So, with respect to Ms. Blank, I have borrowed her headings for the basis of this blog post! Here are some basic but essential points to keep in mind when writing an email to a college admissions representative!
Consider what else is going on with the recipient. While the original article suggests that you be sure to check in on personal matters when emailing, during the college process, you should not generally expect to get very personal with admissions professionals. Instead, though, I recommend that you interpret this directive more as a call to be aware of what is going on in the professional life of your recipient. Admissions representatives are busy people. Avoid expecting quick or lengthy replies. Understand also the cycles of their work. In the fall, they tend to travel a lot. In the winter, they tend to be busy reading applications. In the spring, they tend to be engrossed in admissions yield events and the like. Countless times I have seen students miss the opportunity to show a little empathy. Do what you can to reflect an understanding of their work!
Think about what else is going on with you. It is commonplace for us to see email as the utilitarian tool that we mostly use it for: to get information. However, remember that it is also important that you share what is going on with you as well. This is important! While you may have the need to get a question answered, effective emailing would have you also be sure to share something new or noteworthy about yourself. Share away!
Be aware of what is currently going on in the world. Be sure to send appropriate greetings around holidays when possible, yes, but also keep abreast of any news that might be relevant to the work or the region. I once had a student come to my office to complain that a college admissions rep had not replied to her email in over a week. She showed me the email she was prepared to send as a follow-up until I shared with her that this particular college’s campus had been evacuated due to a natural disaster. Don’t be that kid.
Answer the five “Ws”. Great checklist to review: who, what, where, when, and why. Be sure to review your message for each of these! Prevent the representative from having to write back to politely ask you for more information that should have been in the initial email.
Don’t start with “I.” This one is a bit more difficult and challenging to achieve, but it is worth the thought and effort. This assists in preventing you from seeming self-involved. Of course, you will need to use the word “I,” but just be sure not to begin your sentences with it (especially opening sentences of paragraphs), and do what you can to avoid using it in successive sentences.
Include the attachment. Simple. Google reminds you nowadays. If you intend to include something, be sure to include it.
Question the accuracy of the content. I love what Ms. Blank shares: “Don’t say things that are false. Do not exaggerate. Make sure what you say is an accurate reflection of the situation. Don’t run the risk of the person losing confidence in you.” Be straightforward and honest.
Review for tone. This one is tough, perhaps the toughest in this list. Here’s my advice: get someone to read the email for you. Of course you do not want to come across as negative, harsh, entitled, or any of a host of lamentable qualities, so get some help making sure you don’t! I have never turned down the opportunity to read a student’s email for tone. Ask for help! One additional bit: to preserve sanity, rather than simply trying to avoid the wrong tone, think about what tone would be ideal and aim for that! And share that with your proof-reader. (For my part, I generally try to express a tone of appreciation… try that!)
Spell check. Again. Simple. Most email platforms do this anyway, so in today’s day and age, misspellings generally come across as carelessness.
And here are a couple more of my own additional thoughts!
Use formal salutations and closings. Beginning with “Dear Mr. Smith” and ending with “Very truly yours” may seem formal, but it makes a difference in tone. Cutting corners here can come off as hurried.
Introduce yourself. Keep in mind that admissions reps generally tend to have great memories for people and/or have some great tricks for remembering people they meet, but they are not omniscient. Introduce yourself, where you’re from, what school you attend, and the like. Also, if you have already met them, do not assume that they remember you, but instead humbly remind them of when and where you met them and what you may have discussed, if you interacted.
Know when to pick up the phone. Email can be a burden. It can be a burden to write. And it can be a burden to read. Show some self-awareness of when you might potentially be seen as a noodge. If you find yourself approaching this threshold, pare your next email down and instead engage to try to find a time when you might speak on the phone.
Some of these lessons might seem trivial, but they are ones that will serve you well through the admissions process but also in life. In fact, how many do you practice when emailing your teachers… or your counselor? Practice makes permanent!