College Smart Advising

My Thoughts on College Applications


Tips for Effective Email Communication with Colleges

Since many college information sessions, meetings, tours, and events are taking place online, you might find your inbox more full than usual. In the absence of on-campus visits, some of the best ways to learn more about those schools is through webinars, virtual tours, and student panels. Thus, I recommend that students subscribe to the prospective student email lists for all of the colleges they are considering. However, between the increased volume of online events and the unsolicited college-related SPAM, students are often overwhelmed with their overflowing inboxes. To help you navigate this new form of communication, here are a few tips to help manage increased inbox volume while establishing a professional relationship with the colleges.


Incoming Mail:
·      Create folders to sort your emails by college, major, program, or topic (maybe things like testing, interviews, scholarships)
·      Set up filters to automatically route emails into assigned folders
·      Unsubscribe from email lists that are cluttering your inbox
·      Pin emails that are a priority and need to be addressed in the next 24 hours and flag emails you need to circle back to at a later time
·      Remember to respond to your emails promptly (within 24 to 48 hours) and over-communicate rather under-communicate.
Outgoing Mail:
·      Keep it professional by using a greeting such as “Dear ___,” or “Hello ____,” and include a sign off like “Thank you,” or “Sincerely,” 
·      When emailing someone new, use “Dear first and last name,” or “Coach first and last name,”
·      Be clear and concise with your message and what you need 
·      It is OK to follow up with people who have not responded to your email. You can send a follow-up email after a week. If still no response, you can send another in a few days  
·      Check for excess exclamation points. If you have more than two or three, remove some 
·      Do not use emojis or slang in formal correspondence
·      Craft an email signature and include your contact information and LinkedIn URL
·      Consider adding an appropriate photo of you to your email account so people can more easily recall who you are.
Happy emailing! 

All or Nothing


When I am helping students revise essays, one of the first projects is to conduct a search for the word “always”. Always usually appears in sentences like, “I have always wanted to be a pediatric oncologist.” and “I have always loved behavioral economics.” Really? You wanted to be a pediatric oncologist when you were five? The rest of us wanted to be firefighters, or teachers, or Mulan. You must have been a fun sight to see when you trick-or-treated in your oncologist costume.

I understand the appeal in making these “always” claims in your college application essays. You want to sound like you have a plan - that you have everything mapped out for your future. But, when you overstate your case and operate in absolutes, you end up undermining the point you are trying to make. By claiming you have everything figured out, you lose credibility as a writer and waste the good will of your reader. Do you really want to begin your Personal Statement with an assertion that is, at best, inaccurate (and, at worst, untrue)?

The first law of personal statements is: “Show, Don’t Tell.” Always statements are one of the worst forms of telling because “always”, and its fraternal twin, “never”, are symptoms of “all or nothing” thinking, a cognitive disorder that can lead to unrealistic expectations. Things are black or white, good or bad, you are either successful or an absolute failure. None of these things are true. The world is always filled with nuances and possibilities.

Instead of telling us what you always wanted, show us why you are inspired to pursue a certain career interest or how you developed a fascination with a specific area of study. Instead of always, embrace the ideas of “currently fascinated by” or “based on my experiences” or “I’d like to learn more about”. And if you did dress up as an oncologist for Halloween, share that experience with us, we’d love to learn more about it in your personal statement (and I’d love to see photos).