Tom’s College E-mail Tips – Part 2

By Tom

The e-mail tips continue, focusing today on how to effectively use e-mail to contact us. These are some pointers that should generally help you appear more professional and mature to your college admission counselors – who, of course, are very important people!

Tip #5: Treat e-mail like you would treat a business letter. You don’t need to put your address at the top or anything like that. But a salutation helps. When I receive e-mails that begin “sup my name is _______ and i was wondering…” (yes, that is a real example), it doesn’t impress me too much. Even if you’re sending it to a general ask-a-question e-mail address, at least include a “To whom it may concern:” or a “Hello,” to start with. A closing “Sincerely,” doesn’t hurt either – and your name is helpful, too (I’ve received many e-mails where the senders don’t even identify themselves). In general, we look at e-mail just as we would a letter or any other form of professional communication. So please be conscious of formality when you e-mail us; how you usually write an e-mail to a friend might not look overly professional or mature to a college admission officer.

Tip #6: Write carefully, and avoid casualness. Again, treat e-mail as you would a letter. Don’t just type something up hurriedly and click “send” (would you do that with a letter – print and mail it without once looking it over?) Make sure you use proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. The number of e-mails I receive that don’t include a single punctuation mark or capitalized letter would probably surprise many of you. Also avoid Internet slang (“lol,” “sup,” “omg”, etc.) I recently got an e-mail with the subject line “lookin 4 ur student profile.” Maybe I’m just a stickler, or maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I find that somewhat inappropriate for an e-mail to an admissions office (and many of my colleagues would agree, I think).

With regard to tips #5 and #6, I think many students – or even parents – view e-mail as being a much more casual medium than a written letter, but from our perspective it isn’t. It’s an important, professional method of communication that is very helpful and integral to the admission process.

Tip #7: Please don’t send long lists of questions. This is more of a personal request than a suggestion, but I’m sure many admission officers can echo it. I frequently get e-mails with a lengthy list of very general questions, which I suspect students simply copy and send to multiple universities. When I get these e-mails, I usually just send the student a link to our website. To be frank, doing initial research on different universities and finding out the basics is your responsibility; that’s what websites and brochures are designed to do (plus, when you browse through a college website or brochure, you’ll discover lots of other things you might not have even thought to ask). This isn’t to say that I don’t answer e-mails with multiple questions; when a student has a list of very detailed questions that reflect a prior knowledge of Richmond, I’m glad to help out. But things like student body size and SAT ranges can be found very easily on our website, and e-mail is not an effective method for getting those questions answered. So spend some time researching a college, and save your e-mails for more detailed questions later on, when they can be used more effectively.

Tip #8: Try not to copy multiple colleges on the same e-mail. When I get a list of general questions (as in tip #7) and I can see, in the recipient field, addresses at Wake Forest, Duke, William and Mary, UVA, Vanderbilt, and Dickinson, it does not speak too highly of your work ethic or your desire to spend time getting to know Richmond. It also makes me less likely to write a lengthy personal response. I received an e-mail earlier this year stating, “I have searched your website and have been unsuccessful in finding any financial aid forms. Could you please send me a list of all required forms and deadlines, and a link to the forms?” The e-mail had been sent to eight different colleges. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how much effort that student put into searching for the forms, and what that said to me.

In all, e-mail can be used as a very effective tool for corresponding with your regional admission officer and discovering more about a college or university – if you use it strategically. And I can’t emphasize how important it is to be conscious of how you are presenting yourself in your e-mails, and to make sure you do so with maturity and professionalism. Over the past year, I have taken to printing out particularly bad e-mails and posting them on a bulletin board in my office (with all identification removed, of course), as a way to vent some of my own frustrations. (The examples I’ve used in this post are taken from that bulletin board.) Make it your goal not to end up on an admission office bulletin board, unless as an example of the most wonderful e-mail a counselor has ever received!


  1. Posted September 18, 2008 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tom,

    I’ve been helping my nephew with the college application process and I happened to stumble across this blog.

    These are such excellent tips. I think we’re living in an era where electronic communication has become a double-edged sword: On one hand, the ease and speed of email provides an unprecedented opportunity to easily reach out to one another; on the other hand, the ability to communicate effectively and politely seems to have diminished.

    This blog is great. I’ll definitely be sending my nephew over here to check it out.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Tom
    Posted September 24, 2008 at 10:12 am | Permalink


    Thanks so much for your feedback! You state the case very succinctly there, and I think we can all appreciate your point. It’s understandably easy to lose a level of professionalism when communication becomes so instantaneous and convenient – but it’s really important, especially when you’re trying to impress.

    I’m glad to know this post and blog are helpful and being used out there!

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