I’m continuing the “You Ask, I Answer” series where I respond to the most common questions I get from prospective or admitted students (you can find a previous You Ask, I Answer: When Should I Start Graduate School? here). If you have a question you’d like me to answer in the next post, be sure to comment below!

To be honest, this actually isn’t a question that I get from prospective students too often, but at graduate fairs, students often mention that although they have the desire to reach out to admissions contacts, they aren’t sure how, or feel awkward or nervous about contacting admissions personnel directly. Which I totally get! When you’re writing a message to someone in an admissions office, you should think of your email as serving multiple purposes. First and foremost, you’re trying to get an answer to a question you have, either about the program or the application process. That should be what the content of the email is focused on. But secondly, you’re also trying to make a good first impression on the people who will be involved in your application process. This doesn’t mean that you should re-iterate the highlights of your application to demonstrate why you’d be a good fit for the program, but it does mean that throughout your email, you should be making an effort to show that you’re interested in the program, you’ve done your research, and you’re a clear communicator. Let’s take a look at a (fictional) email from a prospective student and then talk about what the student could have done better:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu, AdmissionsContact2@college.edu, ProgramManager1@college.edu, DeanOfCollege1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: questions


hey ProgramManager3,

,my name is Fictional Student and i want to ask some questions about the mpp porgram ur school. i graduated 1st in my class in fictionalprogram at fictionalschool with a GPA of 3.76. since then, i worked at fictionalcompany for 4 yrs as a fictionaljobtitle, where i had fictionalresponsibilities. then i got a job at fictionalcompany2, where i works as a fictionaljobtitle2, which has the additional responsibilities of managing people. i also volunteer as a volunteerposition, and in my spare time i like to read and play music. but now i’m interested in advancing my education threw youre mpp program  bc i want to make a difference in the world. can u tell me when the deadline to apply to the program is??

thanks, Fictional Student”

You can probably tell that this email probably wouldn’t make the best first impression, but what could FictionalStudent have done better? First, they could have looked up the person in the admissions office that handles the program that they’re interested in and emailed that person (and only that person!). Sometimes students email multiple people in the hopes of getting an answer to their question, but it actually can backfire and create confusion among staff, even resulting in students not getting a reply because everyone on the email assumes that someone else will take care of the student’s question. Next problem? The tone is very informal, especially the text-speak. This doesn’t mean that you have to write in an overly formal way, but you should aim to write as a slightly more polished version of yourself, the same tone that you would use if you were emailing your boss or someone you have a job interview with. In addition to the too-casual tone, FictionalStudent also didn’t remember to proofread their email; a single typo isn’t going to ruin your chances of getting accepted to the program, but an email riddled with spelling and grammar errors definitely isn’t going to make the best impression.

Those are the more obvious errors, but I’d also add two more that may not be so obvious. First, the student is including information about themselves that isn’t relevant to their question and will most likely be repeated in their application. Think of it this way: your application is your opportunity to share more about yourself with the admissions committee, but when you’re emailing someone in admissions, that’s your opportunity for the school to share more about itself with you. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include any information about yourself (in fact, there are a lot of instances where you’ll need to include information about your background and interests), but try to keep the content of your message focused on the question you have and include only the information that’s relevant. Secondly, the student asked a question that can be very easily found on the website. I’m not saying that you have to make sure you scour a school’s webpage before you email someone in admissions, but things like deadlines and application requirements are almost always on a school’s website. Sending an email asking for something that’s featured prominently gives the impression that you haven’t taken the time or the effort to do your research. Let’s end with a corrected email that’s sure to make a good first impression:

To: AdmissionsContact1@college.edu

From: FictionalStudent@gmail.com

Subject: Questions about Submitting Test Scores


Dear AdmissionsContact,

I hope you’re doing well! I’m Fictional Student and I’m currently applying to the MPP program at your school. While reviewing admissions website, I saw that the GRE requirement is waived for students applying to the MPP program for the Fall 2022 semester. I have already taken the GRE, and I’m considering whether or not to submit test scores as a part of my application. Would you be able to tell me how the GRE is used when evaluating a students application, or what the average scores are for successful applicants? Any guidance you could provide would be very appreciated.

Thank you, Fictional Student”