Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Email Etiquette 101 for International Students

By Li Chang
Research Associate, World Education Services

Email has become such an integral part of our life that we struggle to function without it in our day to day life. Our latest research shows that 88% of international Millennial students check, read, or send emails at least once a day. Of those prospective students who used mobile devices during their U.S. college-search and application process, 62% used mobile devices to communicate with admission staff over email. Certainly, email is an important device for international students to search for information about schools in the U.S. and connect with university admissions officers.

However, when we presented the above research findings during one of our webinar series, Sara Konekeo, the Associate Director for Admission, Data Management and Academic Services at the New School sharply voiced her criticism of basic communication etiquette. She said:

“We struggle with the lack of professionalism that has become the norm when students are communicating with us. We do our best to guide students to add a bit more professionalism and traditional etiquette in their correspondence. We don't want their communication to affect their admissions decision.”

Her question at the end is directed not only to institutions but also to international students: Are you writing clear, effective emails to admissions officers? This post presents a few tips for effective email writing. You may want to peruse the following email as a template when communicating with admissions officers.

In general, here are the three rules of thumb to keep in mind:

· Keep your email message clear and concise: Admissions officers are tremendously busy people. They have to deal with up to hundreds and sometimes, even thousands of applications every year. It’s very important to keep your email brief and clear.

· Check spelling, punctuation and grammar: I know this can be rather difficult to follow as there are many language nuances that non-native English speakers often find hard to comprehend—for example, you may struggle with whether or not to keep a “the” in the sentence. Although emails are not academic papers, you must do your best to minimize grammar mistakes. If the email provider you use doesn’t come with spell-check, write the email draft in Microsoft Word or another similar tool as they provide an auto spelling & grammar function which helps in correcting some basic mistakes, e.g. typos, punctuations, and tenses, etc. There are also a variety of online proofreaders, PaperRater for one, which may come in handy.

· Keep it professional: Although there are no strict rules when it comes to the type of font and size to use, you should refrain from using multiple colors and dazzling font type such as Freestyle Script as they distract from the message. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to follow the formatting requirement of essay writing. For example, Stanford recommends using one of the more common fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial in a 12-point font size.

1 The subject line should clearly identify the topic of this email. Don’t leave it blank! You don’t want the email provider to categorize it as spam.

2 Start the email by addressing his/her full name. If you really can’t find out who is in charge of the admission, you may use “Dear Admission Officer:” or “To Whom It May Concern:”

3 Provide background information and purpose of this email in the first paragraph.

a Tips: Some institutions have special admission policy for students from certain countries or schools. Providing this information can help admissions officers better adapt answer to your particular case.

4 Expand your message.

b Tips: We love bullet points! They help organize thoughts and are very easy to follow.

5 Close your message with expectation of next step if applicable. Don’t forget to thank the admission officer for his/her time.  Don’t press “Send” without signing your name! At least, the admission officer should know who he/she is talking to.

c Tips: Also include your social media accounts. Nowadays, many institutions are present on social media outlets. You may get a chance to interact with admissions officers directly on those platforms.

Do you have any questions about how to write effective emails? Let us know!

If you are looking for more information, check out Email Etiquette by Online Writing Lab, Purdue University. Also, check out tips on Writing Great Personal Essays by Morgan Volkart, Director of International Recruitment at Lehigh University.

Li earned her master’s degree in education policy and social analysis from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language teaching from East China Normal University, China.

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