Whether it is a pandemic or not, whether you can visit or not, you will eventually want to reach out to someone on a college campus. You may want to show demonstrated interest in the college or get an authentic sense of the school beyond a campus tour. You may want to update the admissions committee on a significant event in your life. Sometimes, you may just have a question.
So, how should you reach out to someone at a university?
Send an Email
A few years ago, we might have counseled you to start by making a phone call. However, there are some definite advantages to email.
Nearly everyone you may want to contact on a college campus will have access to email. This could be a professor whose research interests you, a member of a student organization that you find intriguing, or an admissions officer who can answer specific questions or provide meaningful updates.
Another advantage of email is that it provides a written record not only for you (great details for a why college essay!), but also for any admissions officer you reach out to who may want to reference your correspondence as they review your application file.
The exact details of what an email should entail will vary, depending on whether you are contacting the admissions department, a professor, or a student.
- Consider whether you really need to send this email. Could your questions be answered in the marketing material, on the college website, or through Google? If so, then use those resources, instead. By reaching out, are you providing a meaningful or substantial update to your application? If not, then hold off on bombarding admissions officers.
- Consider your purpose. If you are reaching out to a student, then do you hope to get a sense of the campus beyond what you have seen on a tour? If you are reaching out to a professor, then what fascinates you about their research?
- Consider your email address. Will it make a positive impression on those who see it? Using a professional email address is not only a good idea for your college search, it will also help you down the road when applying for jobs.
- Consider your recipient. If you are emailing the admissions office, then try to find out the most appropriate person to contact. Many universities assign officers by region or state, like this example from Duke.
- Write your email in advance. Have someone else look it over before you send it: a parent, a friend, or even us.
- Use a salutation
- If emailing an admissions officer or professor, then we recommend sticking to the classic: “Dear _____,”
- If you are certain that a professor has their PhD, then you can address them as Dr. _____, but if not, then “Professor _____” is a safe bet.
- For admissions officers, begin with Mr., Ms., or Mx.
- If you are exchanging a chain of emails, then take your cue from how they sign their return email. For instance, if Ms. Smith or Professor Green sign with their first names, then that is a good sign that you can address them that way.
- Introduce yourself. Share your full first and last name, your high school, and your grade.
- Be purposeful. No one wants to read a novel in their inbox. Carefully consider what you want to say, and limit yourself to 2–3 questions, maximum.
- Conclude your email politely. Use some variety of “Thank you in advance,” “Sincerely,” or “Best,” followed by your name.
- Wait. Email is not an instantaneous medium; some people may check it only once daily. If you haven’t heard from your recipient within a few days, then you can send a polite follow-up email.
- Express gratitude. If and when you get a response, let the person know that you appreciate their time.
Pick Up the Phone
Although it may not be your first instinct (and we know that many teenagers hate phone calls), there are certain moments when this may be your best bet. A phone call can let you ask follow-up questions, which may be useful if you have a complicated topic you want to discuss. Because of that, it also tends to create a more meaningful conversation.
Calling works best with the admissions office, rather than professors or student organizations. Professors may not always be in the office to answer their phones, and student organizations will likely not have an associated phone line.
- Do some prep—similar to the way you would if sending an email.
- Make a few notes. While you do not want to read from a script, having a list of questions to refer to in advance will help keep the call on track. It is also a great way to combat phone anxiety! Have someone else look over your questions beforehand.
During the Call:
- Introduce yourself. Share your first and last name and where you’re from. Do this every time you get transferred to another person!
- If transferred, then politely summarize why you are calling again. If you know who you want to speak to, then ask for them by name! If not, then ask if you’re speaking to the right person.
- Use your notes, but speak naturally. Admissions officers work in this field because they love talking to students. The best conversations are the ones that feel authentic and open.
- Be flexible. Conversations shift by nature, so go with the flow and ask follow-up questions if you need them. However, try to be mindful of how long the conversation is running and be respectful of the professor’s or admissions officer’s time.
- Take notes while, or right after, the conversation. This can help inform your supplemental essays to particular colleges.
- Send a thank-you email. Use your full name and high school again, and mention a specific detail from the conversation to help them remember you. Have a friend or family member proofread your email before you send it.
Reach Out on Social Media
This last option is the least formal and is likely best used for contacting student organizations. Groups like these may not have an easily locatable email address, but will probably have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account. Reaching out to students or student groups in an informal way can help you gain a truly authentic sense of what your college experience would be like.
You might also reach out to a professor or researcher over LinkedIn. If you do this, then:
- Take a look at your social media profile and history first. While no one expects a perfectly polished Instagram, illegal, unethical, or discriminatory activity can paint you in a bad light.
- Take this opportunity to create, or spruce up, your LinkedIn profile. Beyond the college admissions process, this can be useful when applying for future internships or jobs.
- The four key rules from emails and phone calls remain: introduce yourself, think carefully about what you want to ask, be polite, and say thank you.
This kind of communication can serve so many different purposes. At certain schools, keeping in touch with your admissions officer can help your chances of acceptance. But reaching out is also crucial in gaining an authentic perspective on a given college and campus. This not only helps you write strong why college essays, but it also helps you choose the college that is ultimately the best fit for you.
Got any more questions? We can help.