10 Mistakes All College Students Make When Sending Emails
As a graduate student, even during the summer, I send and receive 30+ emails per day.
Because most of the world has shifted online, college students are relying on written communication more than ever.
No one is perfect. We’ve all sent emails with a misspelled subject line, or forgotten to attach a document.
Today, I’m breaking down the worst email offenses that college students make, and how to fix them.
- Not using your college-specific email account
- No subject line or a vague, non-specific subject line
- Forgetting to introduce yourself
- Making the email too long
- Not having a CLEAR call to action
- Forgetting to attach documents
- Hitting “send” too soon
- Not having a professional email signature
- Hitting Reply-All
- Not writing your emails for a larger audience
#1. Not using your college-specific email account
I know it can be a pain to have to manage multiple email accounts, especially if your university uses a clunky or difficult-to-navigate email platform.
But the truth is: your university gives you an email address because that way, they know for CERTAIN that the person they are sending email to is YOU, their enrolled student.
This is especially important when colleges are sending out private information about tuition, grades, academic standing, immunization documentation, etc.
For any/all college-related emails, it always best to use your college-generated email address.
No subject line, or a vague, nonspecific subject line
Whether you are sending an email to a professor, a student services employee, or a classmate, it helps EVERYONE to wade through their piles and piles of emails if they can tell right away what YOUR email is about.
Helpful subject lines include:
- “Question about Homework #3 for CHEM 1100”
- “Sociology 2302 Teaching Assistant Application”
- “Annual Fashion Club Fall Catwalk Interest Survey”
Forgetting to introduce yourself in the email
After the salutation (which should, of course, include the name and title of your recipient, properly spelled and punctuated), it is your job to introduce yourself.
This is a bigger deal at larger universities, where professors might have three different Chemistry I lectures with 500 students between them, but even at small universities, it is important to include your name and relevant information within the first sentence or two of the email.
This doesn’t have to be much, but adding this introduction allows the email recipient to remember who you are and figure out why you might be emailing them.
- “My name is John Smith, and I am a student in your T/Th PSY 200 lecture”
- “My name is Julie Doe, and I am a 2nd year accounting major”
Making the email too long
We’ve all gotten those emails.
The solid WALL of text; multiple thick paragraphs detailing event after event or reminder after reminder.
(I’ll admit, I definitely used to send some of those emails)
Sometimes, we have a lot to say.
But the harder an email is to skim over, or the more time the reader has to spend figuring out what makes this email relevant to them, the less likely that they will make it all the way to the end, where your Call To Action (more on that later) is located.
Take a look at this blog post. See how I don’t have more than 2-3 sentences per paragraph? Notice how easy it is to read this way?
My general rule of thumb is to think about whether my email REALLY needs paragraphs and paragraphs worth of information.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I rephrase some of my sentences to be shorter and more concise? (spoiler: the answer is yes 99.999% of the time)
- Could I break up my information paragraphs into a bullet pointed list?
- Could I attach a separate document with a questionnaire or meeting agenda?
- Could I decide maybe some of this information gets saved for another email entirely?
Not Making Your Call to Action CLEAR
Remember when I talked about a call to action?
Well, your email needs one.
If you’re asking a professor or TA a question about a homework assignment, your “call to action” is to state which homework, which question(s), and what you are stuck on.
If you want information about department scholarship deadlines: you need to ask for that information.
If you are sending a survey, you want to tell people to fill out the survey.
See where I’m going with this?
If I’m sending an email to a large group of people, or if I have a particularly long email, I will try to put the call to action either at the very beginning to the email, or at the very end of the email. I might italicize, bold, or underline my call to action
Forgetting to attach documents
I am SO guilty of this.
Two things that have helped me:
- Writing some version of “The document I have attached to this email” in your email. This will generally prompt me to remember to do it. If it doesn’t, it will prompt the recipient to ask me where the document is.
- I don’t put the sender’s email into the “To:” section of the email until AFTER I’ve attached all the documents. This helps me from clicking send too soon.
Hitting Send Too Soon
Don’t you hate when you email someone a question, and then you find the answer yourself 5 minutes later?
My trick to combat this is to write an email, and then wait 10-20 minutes before I click send. In that time, I’ll search the web, my backpack, or my course page on Canvas for the answer.
If, after those 20 minutes, I still don’t have an answer to my question, I click send. I also get the chance to read it over one more time and fix any typos I catch.
This 20 minute trick is also good for when I’m sending a sensitive email, or when I might be writing an email that’s emotionally charged.
In those 10-20 minutes, I have time to cool off, and sometimes I’ll find that I need to rephrase what I’ve already written, or that the email I wrote doesn’t need to be sent at all.
Not having a professional email signature
I’m talking about 2 different signatures here. One is the literally way that you sign off on your emails.
My college roommate signs her emails with, “Best, Danielle”
My dad signs all of his emails with “Regards, Wayne”
Depending on what I’m writing, I’ll usually stick with “Sincerely” or “Thank you” and then my name.
The OTHER signature is the auto-signature, which you can set up to appear at the bottom of every single email you send. If you are a college student, this signature should include:
- Your full name or the name that most people know you as.
- Your school name, major, and year of expected graduation
- Any job titles you hold that you might be sending emails for
- Your pronouns if you are comfortable including them
- Optional: a phone number. I personally do not include my cell phone number in any of my email signatures, but if I had a work phone or desk phone, I would likely include that if phone calls were an important part of my job.
This email signature allows people to remind themselves of who you are, and in some cases, is helpful in allowing them to contact you in the future.
Thankfully, most people in today’s college generation are pretty good about this.
But please, please, please: do NOT hit reply all unless the email instructions tell you to, for example, if a group of people are sharing their availability to schedule a meeting.
Not writing emails for a larger audience
This is actually a rule that my dad gave me. His version of the rule is “Right every email as though your CEO will see it”
My version is “Write every email as though it might get forwarded to the entire student body”
And I have a story to go along with it, because one time…one of my emails actually WAS forwarded to the entire student body.
In undergrad, I worked in the campus food shelf, where part of my job was to coordinate volunteers and donations.
We had a few on-campus student groups run food drives to collect canned and boxed items for us, without contacting us first.
While this was well-meaning and we loved the generosity of the student body, our food shelf preferred not to receive food donations. Food donations tended to be mismatched, sometimes expired items that didn’t promote a dignified shopping experience for our food shelf clients.
We were, however, happy to receive monetary donations or donations of new, unopened toiletries, personal care products, or household cleaning items.
I wrote an email to the Student Activities office saying as much, and requested that they pass along the information to other club leaders.
Well…the next day, I got an email.
MY email, forwarded back to me, and what seemed to be the entire campus (every classmate, professor, and staff member I questioned told me they received the email.
The Bigger Picture
Let’s be real for a second:
Knowing how to write professional, grammatically correct, aesthetically pleasing emails is a learned skill.
I received an excellent childhood education surrounded by people with college degrees who knew how to teach me how to write and speak so that I would be taken seriously as a college student and as an adult.
This is a privilege. This is a HUGE privilege.
I recognize that.
I’m actively working to change my own biases and judgement because I recognize that my judging someone for writing an email without a subject line, for hitting reply-all, or for being “unprofessional” (a concept inherently rooted in racism) helps NO ONE and continues to perpetuate issues of systemic discrimination.
I don’t write this blog post coming from a judgmental place.
I wrote this blog post because I want other college students to be confident in their communication, to take themselves seriously and to be taken seriously by others WHILE we work on tearing these systems of oppression apart.
Watch THIS episode of Feed That Nation to hear more about how to write professional emails as a college student!
Hello! Welcome to Feed That Nation!
My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a graduate student, future registered dietitian, health educator, content creator, AND a self-proclaimed mac and cheese expert.
Feed That Nation is YOUR place to talk about all things college life and health. My goal is to help other college students to be more confident, more successful, and more healthy during their college experience.