E-mail etiquette for students

by Stephanie Abba


So you've browsed SchoolFinder.com or ScholarshipsCanada.com, or clicked around the site of a college or university that interests you, and you have questions. You fire up the e-mail program of your choice, write your note, and send your questions out into the ether. But what kind of impression are you giving in your message? Do you come across as an intelligent and mature individual, or do you seem to be a teeny-bopper who wouldn't know a dictionary if you tripped over it? Read on for some simple tips that will help you impress the people you're writing to about things that could affect the rest of your life.

First impressions count
Think about your e-mail address. While you may be attached to your e-mail address of moonprincess1982@whatever.com or CrAzZZzYGuY@domainname.ca, think about how a school or scholarships administrator might feel when seeing that in his/her inbox. There's a simple solution to this problem: Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail accounts are all free. Consider signing up for one that you use for this kind of communication, and make the address something simple and mature, like YourFirstNameYourLastName@hotmail.com, or YourFirstInitialYourLastName@gmail.com.

Second impressions count too
Think about your subject line. If you were an administrator, what do you think you'd do with an e-mail with the subject line "if u could help" or "help meeeeeeeeeee"? You'd probably delete them as spam, right? If you're writing because you have questions about admissions to the biology program, try having a subject line that reads "questions about admission to the biology program" instead of "want to take bio wat r ur requirements". Having a clear and readable subject line can help you get a quicker response from someone who answers dozens of e-mail messages daily.

How it looks
Hey, everyone! Isn't it great that you can have a rainbow-striped background, or a million little graemlins or smilies in your e-mail? No, it isn't. Those backgrounds don't work on every e-mail program, and sometimes they cause more trouble than your message is worth to a busy administrator or departmental secretary. Use them all you like in your personal e-mails, but lose them in professional communications.

And another thing
Now call me a feminist - please! - but another thing that drives me crazy is having to answer e-mail messages addressed to "Dear Sir". The future is here, ladies and gentlemen, and the future means equal opportunity e-mails. If you don't know the name or sex of the person you're writing to, please use "Dear Sir or Madam" or even "To Whom It May Concern". Please. As far as I'm concerned, "Dear CompanyName" or "Dear WebsiteName" is fine, but assumptions that anyone in a position to help you is a male are not fine at all.

Use common sense
You're not writing a letter to a friend, you're writing a letter to a professional person, asking for information about something important like a school, program, scholarship or career. Rules and conventions like using proper spelling, punctuation and (please oh please) capital letters may seem stuffy, but it's how the grown-up world operates most of the time. Just do it.

can U imagin how a proffessional adultt feelz bout getting an entire paragraf of miss-pelled and badly punctuated sentencez in they're inbox? ill tell U -- it makes our hedz hurt!!11!!!!!1 Xpecialy when the email is from a studant telling you how intrested they R in medicin or being a loyer when they grow up. p00r spelling and badd grammer iznt cool! lol1!!@!

You wouldn't consider sending out a cover letter full of badly-spelled words or netspeak, would you? (I hope not!) Messages to school and scholarship administrators should be treated like job applications. Write like a grown-up, and you'll likely be treated as such. Take the time to spell correctly. Use a spellchecker or online dictionary if you're not sure how to spell something. Use apostrophes where needed and capital letters to start sentences. It'll make everyone's life easier!

One last thing
Be polite. Thank the person for their time, and remember to sign your name at the end. It's common courtesy.

Modified on April 23, 2009