How to Properly Correspond with a College

by
Director of School Counseling, Author

Interacting with representatives from the colleges you’re considering isn’t like chatting with one of your besties. It’s more formal, certainly, and you want to present your best self, from avoiding text-message speak to addressing the proper point of contact. But there’s more to it than that. One admission expert explains how.

Unless you personally know someone in the admission office of the college(s) you are applying to, remember that you are going to be primarily judged by what you submit in writing. Many times your written correspondence (including e-mails) will become part of your file. For this reason, it is important to understand the following:

How

Most institutions prefer e-mail and typically will respond more readily this way. Often the person who is handling your file may be out of the office reading applications or on the road for meetings and recruiting. They will often see an e-mail much sooner than receiving a phone call. It is a good idea to provide your phone number in e-mail in case they want to talk with you. Be sure that your correspondence is clear and concise. Direct questions are more likely to get direct answers than vague ones. (If you need to call, keep reading for advice on tone and language.)

When

It is important to correspond with the college when you have unique questions that only the college could answer. If you have general questions like deadline information, tuition costs, or other things that are typically on the college website, it is better to do your homework and find it there. If you have departmental questions, it is good to contact the department directly (again after reviewing the website). Be sure that if you have a complicated question that you call rather than e-mail to ensure that the question is understood fully so you receive a correct and complete answer.

Who

Address your question to the lowest office that can answer it. If you send questions to the director or head of a department, they will often be delegated to someone else. Many times, the assistant who answers the phone for the department (admission, your major, etc.) has the answers to all of the FAQs, so if this is the type of question you have, they are typically a good resource for a quick and accurate answer—but, again, check the website first, as many FAQs are posted there. Colleges appreciate your interest and often keep track of your contact with them, but are not typically impressed if you continually call with questions that can be answered by a review of their website.

Tone

Since colleges make most of their decisions based on your written application, it is important that your tone in all of your written work reflects your personality and makes you real and interesting. Be careful with humor that it is clear you are kidding. This can be risky. Typically, if you don't know whom you are corresponding with, you are best to maintain a friendly but professional tone. Use titles with those you address such as Director, Dr., Professor, President, Dean, etc. These show respect. Be sure to thank them for them time in responding to your request(s) as well.

Language

Your language should be of the same quality as the papers you will write in college. Don't use texting language like “LOL” or “TTYL.” Your language communicates a great deal about your potential as a student, so ensure it reflects your best self. If you send e-mail, spell check your messages and re-read it to yourself or have someone you trust read it to make sure your writing and questions and clear and are quality work (like you would a paper).

In review . . .

Do’s: Do review the college’s website carefully to see if the information you need is there. If it is not, go to the assistant in the department who may have the answer you seek. If you are unable to get the information you need, find out whom you should address your question(s) to and send an e-mail (or leave a voicemail for them). Be sure your language and tone reflect your desire to be a student at the college and your ability to be successful there. Feel free to practice what you will say prior to calling if you are nervous. Do ensure that you get all of the information that you need to make the best decision about which college you want to attend.

Don’ts: Don't be casual in your communication with the college or careless in how and who you communicate with. Ensure that your communication has a purpose that requires the college’s involvement. Don’t waste their time or resources.

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