Master the College Email
There’s a plague looming through college campuses nation-wide. It strikes without warning and spreads ferociously from student to student. No one knows about its origins but the symptoms tend to be hidden, causing random flair-ups during inopportune times. This dangerous disease is known as the infamous College Email.
In an age of text messaging and electronic mailing, conveying the proper tones with your digital voice is extremely important. It conveys a sense of who you are and can determine how others perceive you.
According to many college professors, students often send emails with little attention or care to the format of the email, the tone of the email, and the implied message (the message beyond what’s written on the screen).
There’s a certain etiquette to writing emails. When writing to your friends or even family, a looser, more casual tone of voice is allowed. Your word choice and grammar doesn’t matter much as long as the overall message is relatively understood. Basically, there are no true rules. However, writing to a professor (or any professional) is a bit different.
The college email doesn’t need to be complicated and shouldn’t take too much time. Just be sure to follow these few key rules and watch as your email game shoots up tremendously!
Use formal language
This one is extremely important. The language you use in your email should reflect the language you’d use to with any important figure. We’ll dive a little deeper and extrapolate with some of the rules below but stay away from shorthanded words used in texting like: “ur”, “y”, “idk”, etc. Also, try to avoid contractions (or try to use them very liberally) such as “you’re”, “can’t”, and “they’re”.
Use your college email address
Often overlooked, some students neglect to realize that professors may have multiple students from multiple classes. For many professors, an unrecognized email could easily go to the spam folder or get overlooked.
It’s important to use your college email address so the professor can at least know that you are school affiliated. If you absolutely must use a non-university affiliated email for some reason, be sure to use a normal (non-goofy) email.
Nothing screams spam or unprofessional like an email from someone known as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make the subject relevant and short
The subject line is reserved for a one-word to a three-word subject and nothing more. It’s redundant to write a message in the subject line (that’s what the actual email is for). For example, if you have a question about your previous exam a subject along the lines of “Exam 3 Question” will suffice. There’s no need to write a subject entitled “Question about Exam 3 please help”. Also, use the word urgent with extreme care. If the answer can wait a day or more, it’s not urgent.
Start with a Salutation/greeting
When writing an email, it’s important to start off with a greeting of some kind when being formal. Not only does it show good manners in general, it also shows that you’re considerate and aware of how your professor might be feeling—you understand that he/she are also a human with their own problems and life.
The greeting doesn’t need to be long but you can start with something along the lines of “Hello professor, hope you’re enjoying your day” or “Good evening, hopefully all is well”. Trust me, it’ll certainly reflect good character on your part.
Include what class/section you’re in
As mentioned earlier, professors tend to have a large number of students in several different sections or classes. It’s not uncommon for a professor to not remember you by name or face alone. When writing your email be sure to include your class AND section number so the professor can tell exactly who you are. As a bonus, it wouldn’t hurt to include your ID number.
Don’t neglect honorifics
While you may have a casual relationship with your professor, it’s still best to address him/her by his/her proper title (Professor, Dr., etc.) unless he/she requests otherwise. Your professor has likely spent many years doing research for his/her particular field of study and deserves more respect than simply referring to him or her by their first name. Remember, the goal is to be formal. Showing respect is a huge part of being formal.
Allow enough time
Let’s be realistic. College professors must juggle classes, do personal research, and have their own personal lives outside of college. It’s important to keep this in mind and be respectful. With that being said, if you have a question about an exam that takes place in a few hours and you write an email asking about important questions, don’t expect to hear a response in a timely manner. Your professor isn’t just waiting around by their laptops, anxiously awaiting an email from you. Remember, they are human too and they have other priorities.
Make sure your question is not in the syllabus
This one is huge! As I’ve mentioned in a recent post entitled: The Course Syllabus—Your New Best Friend that you should definitely check out, the syllabus tends to be your ultimate tool for acing your class. Your professor usually includes everything from assignment due dates to the format of the exams/quizzes.
If you have a question I highly urge you to refer to the syllabus at least 3 times before emailing the professor. 9 times out of 10, the question you have is already answered for you on that magical guide.
Message again only if there’s no response in a reasonable amount of time
Sometimes professors just forget to answer or miss your email. It’s likely that they have hundreds of students that require assistance. Beyond that, they may need to communicate with TAs, other professors, perhaps other faculty members, and even others that aren’t school-related at all.
Every once in a while, it’s possible that a professor simply might not see your message. If that’s the case, politely send another message re-stating your question or concern. However, it’s important that you allow an adequate amount of time. My recommendation: allow about a full day or two before emailing again. Anything less than that is pure overkill.
If you can wait more than 2 days then you should probably just ask the question in class or perhaps during a professor’s office hour.
This one is very straightforward. Before you press that send button, take a minute or two to re-read your message once or twice. Make sure both your grammar and punctuation are correct. I also recommend reading the email out loud to truly get a sense of the tone of the email and the ease of reading it.
Was all of that helpful? I know, it’s a lot to consider but trust me, it’s not very complicated and I guarantee that once you consistently send some emails you’ll quickly get used to it. Below is an example of a college email to a professor just to give you an example of what you should go for. Feel free to use it as a basic template if you’d like!
Subject: Exam 2 Question
Dear Professor Smith,
I hope everything is going well. Recently, I reviewed the syllabus from Biology 242 Section 2 and noticed that there is an exam scheduled for October 7th. I need to leave town from the dates of October 6th through October 8th for my athletic club. Would there be any possible way to make up the exam after I return? I’m also available to take the exam prior to the date on the syllabus if that is more convenient. Thank you for reading this message and I hope to hear from you soon!
Student ID: 9 999 9999
Hopefully, you enjoyed this post! Remember, if you found the information beneficial and you think others can benefit from it, go ahead and share this using the social media buttons on the left side of the page. If you have any comments or questions don’t hesitate to message me in the comments section below and as usual, thanks for reading! Stay positive!