Typically, there are two reasons that a prospective college student would want to email a college admissions officer: 1) They have a legitimate question that they are genuinely not able to find the answer to online, or 2) they are “playing the game” by demonstrating interest, an increasingly important factor in college admissions decisions. Ideally, the email that you construct will serve both purposes—the applicant will emerge with enhanced knowledge of the school and the admissions officer will emerge knowing that you are serious about attending their college.

We are frequently asked what to do and not do when emailing an admissions officer. The following rules should get you headed down the right path.

1) Write in your real voice

Whether you are writing an admissions officer at Columbia University with its 7% acceptance rate or someone at Columbia College in South Carolina with its 87% acceptance rate, you want to come across like a nice and respectful young person. This means not addressing the admissions professional in the same manner in which you would text your best friend.

Hey Paul, I was wondering if ur engineering school lets you double major. LMK.

First names, slapped together thoughts, and text-speak are definitely on the list of things not to do. On the other hand, you also don’t want to try overly hard to impress an admissions rep with your expansive vocabulary and mature style of composition that you end up sounding like a pretentious octogenarian:

“It is my asservation that this correspondence will not leave you in a state of sheer lassitude…”

An admissions officer receiving that message might mistakenly conclude that they were somehow receiving spam email from a British officer in the Crimean War.

Aim to be a slightly-polished version of yourself. Your email should sound like it comes from a teenager who is interested in a particular university because, well, that’s what it actually is!

2) Don’t forget to proofread

While a single typo won’t cause your future chances of acceptance to instantaneously combust into ash, it’s still worth spending the extra minute that it will take to quickly scan your email for glaring errors. Just as you wouldn’t come to a job interview donning a suit covered in coffee stains, you shouldn’t press send on the email equivalent riddled with grammatical errors.

3) Keep it about the school, not you

Some students attempt to use their email as a chance to make an elevator speech about how awesome they are. Unfortunately, this really isn’t the appropriate venue in which to chronicle your accomplishments.

You’ll have ample opportunity to impress the admissions office with your GPA, SAT scores, and extracurricular achievements during the application phase. When writing the admissions office, keep the focus on the school, not on yourself.

4) Avoid form emails

If you are emailing a dozen schools, it may tempting to generate a Mad Libs-style template.

I am very interested in _____________ University because of your excellent ____________ program.

As tempting as this practice may be, cutting corners is not a good idea when you are trying to make a positive first impression. If your email has a generic stench to it, the recipient is likely going to catch a whiff and end up unimpressed.

5) Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online

Before you commit your query to email, take a moment to flip through a college guidebook or at least google your question. Even your tech-challenged Great Uncle Willie could probably find the answer to questions like:

  • What majors do you offer?
  • How many students attend your school?
  • Do you have intramural sports?
  • What is the student-faculty ratio?
  • Do most freshmen live in dorms?

Instead, ask questions that will actually give you a greater understanding of whether or not a given school is the right fit for you. For example:

  • I’m interested in majoring in accounting. Do any major accounting firms recruit on campus?
  • What percentage of students participate in undergraduate research?
  • I would like to double major in mechanical engineering and German. Is this possible to complete in four years?
6) Don’t write every single day

So you do want to demonstrate interest in a college but you do not want to come across like Robin Williams in One Hour Photo or Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. There’s a big difference between sending periodic friendly emails and getting the same haircut as a Yale admissions officer and then eating at her favorite restaurant every morning in the next booth. For those not up on mediocre film references, just try not to seem like a creepy stalker. An occasional email expressing interest or asking a legitimate question is the way to go.

7) Ensure that your email address/social media accounts are appropriate

This seems obvious enough, but you’d be surprised how often students slip up here. The second that you send that email, you are officially on the college’s radar. First and foremost, you want to make sure that your email address itself is appropriate. Hopefully, addresses that reference drugs, alcohol, or end in “69” (that seemed hilarious when you were 13) have been retired, or never even existed in the first place. Email addresses that are just plain weird should be avoided too. Admittedly, when I was a teenager I grossly violated this rule; however, in my defense, DoctorMonster@hotmail.com made me (and only me) laugh every time I logged in.

Further, you want to make sure that all of your social media accounts contain only appropriate material or are at least set to private. The best email in the world isn’t going to mean anything if the first search result under your name is an Instagram pic of you chugging a bottle of Boone’s Farm and flipping off the camera.

Key Takeaways
  • Write in your normal voice and edit before sending.
  • Don’t overshare or brag about accomplishment—this isn’t the right time.
  • If emailing multiple schools, resist the urge to use a template.
  • Avoid asking questions that your cat could find on google in three seconds.
  • Don’t pester the admissions officer.
  • Ensure that your email/social media accounts are appropriate before you hit send.
Andrew Belasco

A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.