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're applying to, remember that you are going to be primarily judged by what you submit in writing. Many times, your written correspondence (including emails) will become part of your file. For this reason, it is important to understand the following.
1. Use the right method of communication
Most institutions prefer email 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 email much sooner than returning a phone call. It's a good idea to provide your phone number in your email 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.
Related: How to Talk to Admission Officers in Person and Over Email
2. Reach out at the right time
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). If you have a complicated question, call rather than email to ensure the question is understood fully and so you receive a correct and complete answer.
3. Contact the right people
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.
Related: Top Questions to Ask College Admission Counselors
4. Adopt a professional 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 their time in responding to your request(s) as well.
5. Use appropriate language
Your language should be of the same quality as the papers you will write in college. Don't use texting or shortened language. Your language communicates a great deal about your potential as a student, so ensure it reflects your best self. If you send an email, 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).
Related: How to Write a Strong Professional Email People Will Read
Review the college’s website carefully to see if the information you need is there. If it’s 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 who you should address your question(s) to and send an email (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. Ensure that you get all of the information that you need to make the best decision about which college you want to attend.
For more college advice on navigating the college application process, check out our College Admission section!