How Should I Talk to Colleges as a High School Student?

Striking the right tone in your communication with colleges is important. Learn how to do just that with this expert advice!

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Originally Posted: Jan 11, 2021
Last Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Laurie Kopp WeingartenLaurie Kopp Weingarten
Certified Educational Planner
Co-founder & President, One-Stop College Counseling
Teens are expert texters. They text all day, and they’ve developed all sorts of shorthand abbreviations. It’s rather impressive! But colleges and high school teachers communicate with students via email, so it’s important for teens to become accustomed to using this mode of communication effectively. There’s no course in email etiquette, and sometimes the correspondence can be rather lacking.

Reflecting upon the most basic mistakes we’ve seen while working with high school students throughout the college application process, here are five tips to help teens master the art of email: 

  • Use a professional email address. Having teachers/counselors/admission officers respond to “2cool4u@yahoo.com” or “alwayswinning@gmail.com” doesn’t leave the best impression.
  • Update the subject line to reflect the correct topic of the email. Often students will use an old email subject line like “SAT score” to ask a completely different question such as, “Do you think this program would be a good way for me to spend my summer?” Updating the subject line will allow the recipients to preview the topic, and as an added benefit, you’ll be able to locate the email more easily if you need to do so later on.
  • Address the recipient appropriately. I’ve seen too many emails going to admission officers that start with “Hey Tara” instead of “Dear Ms. Brown.” Even if you’ve developed a friendly relationship with the recipient, steer clear of using “Hey.”
  • Avoid “text speak." Eschew common texting abbreviations, use correct punctuation, never use “i” for “I,” and don’t write in all capital letters.
  • Finally, answer the email! This is our biggest pet peeve. Students will ask us a complicated question, and we’ll spend significant time highlighting the various options and recommendations, and then... crickets. We don’t even know if the email was read. We often worry that our students might not be responding to admission officers or to their high school counselors either. Take the time, within 48 hours, to at least write, “Thank you!” to anyone who answered your email; those two words can go a long way. 

CounselorRhiannon Schade
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn
Striking the right tone in your communication with colleges is important. Any time you're writing or talking to an admission officer, college professor, or other staff member, you want to come off as confident but not arrogant, respectful but not ingratiating. How do you do this? First, above all things, be yourself! If you're trying to be someone you're not, you're more likely to sound inauthentic and overly formal or fall short in some other way. So just be you. Aside from that, be respectful. Address college staff in the same manner in which they have introduced themselves to you. If someone who works in admission at a college you would like to attend introduces herself with her first name, then you can call her by that name. If not, you want to use whatever title they used. When it comes to professors, you can absolutely follow the same convention, but it's always safe to use the title “Professor” or “Doctor [last name]” (if you know they have a PhD). When you're having conversations with college staff, remember to be polite. And you don’t want to be too casual, but you also don’t need to go over the top with formalities. Rather, think about the way you would speak to a teacher at your high school whom you like and respect. That’s the right tone to use. And if you're writing an email, don’t write something so formal that you cannot imagine yourself saying it out loud.

Learn what questions you should be asking admission counselors and more in our College Admission section.

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