Inevitably, you are going to have to write an e-mail at some point in your high school career. Whether it’s to request makeup work or to gush to a teacher about how thankful you are for a recommendation, e-mails are an efficient and convenient way to communicate. Unfortunately, you haven’t taken a class on how to write a formal letter since fourth grade, so today you’re going to take a master class in professionalism.
Regardless of my level of familiarity with the person at hand, I always try to start with “Ms. [Name]:” or “To Whom It May Concern” (the latter is especially useful in addressing an e-mail that could end up in anyone’s hands, like an admission department). Just make sure you spell your addressee’s name correctly! One time I misspelled the same counselor’s last name twice before I caught myself. Taking those extra few seconds to check can really show the recipient that you value them.
Only include what information is necessary! I cannot stress this enough. Instead of “After visiting two doctors and a specialist, I was diagnosed with strep throat and as a result I will be on [medication] for two weeks, and for the first three days of those two weeks I will still be considered contagious and therefore not allowed in school. May I please have the makeup work for those days?” try, “Due to doctor’s orders, I will be out of school from [date] through [date]. Is there any makeup work that you can send me?”
Trust me—teachers and counselors spend so much time reading e-mails, shorter is definitely sweeter. And if you forgot to ask them about a recommendation (or something to that effect), there’s no need to write a three-page drama detailing your last week. If you’re closer with the person you’re e-mailing, a little explanation might be helpful, but excuses may make them less than eager to help you out.
E-mail early and often
Even if you’ve already asked someone in person, e-mailing is often a great way to have that request put on top of that person’s to-do list. Like I said, teachers check their e-mails daily, and admission departments have entire staffs dedicated solely to answering e-mails, so message as soon as possible to make responding to you a priority.
Regardless of the content of your e-mail, always say thank you.
Here’s a sample for a question about SAT scores:
Ms. [counselor’s name]:
I just submitted my last application, and I was wondering: as long as I submit my scores before the day the application is due, will they count as on time, even if the processing time makes them late?
It’s as simple as that. Happy e-mailing!