A Comprehensive Guide to Email Etiquette for High Schoolers
Why would a high school student need to send a professional email?
As you get closer to beginning the college application process and entering the job market, you will find yourself contacting working adults in a professional context quite often. Whether it’s your teachers, a counselor, or an admissions officer at your top choice college, you’ll have reason at one point or another to get in touch with adults and superiors via email.
To give you an idea of what sort of occasions may require you to send a professional email, consider the following scenarios:
- It’s after school hours and you are checking your grades. You notice that your teacher has incorrectly inputted the grade for one of your assignments, and your grade is now lower than it should be. You need get in touch with your teacher right away so you can plan an in-person meeting to talk about it the following day.
- You need to make an appointment with your principal or counselor right away.
- You are seeking a professional job or internship from an employer whom you have never met before.
- You wish to contact an admissions officer or professor from a college you are applying to that is far away.
In all of the above cases, you can either contact the adult in person or send them a professional email. Both are acceptable forms of communication, but sending an email is arguably more convenient. However, if you’re going to send a professional email, there are certain guidelines and formats that you need to follow. Failing to address the person you are emailing in a professional manner could put you at risk not only for having your email ignored, but also for creating a bad reputation for yourself as unprofessional or uncourteous.
To help you email adults and peers professionally and without anxiety, we at CollegeVine have compiled a comprehensive set of guidelines for how to structure and write a professional email. While we can’t write your emails for you, we can share wisdom on the customs and conventions adults and other professionals typically use. You may find that this knowledge is handy both in college and beyond.
Use a Professional Email Address
If you’ve never sent an email before and are just setting up an email account for the first time, don’t fall into the trap of creating a silly or overly personal email address like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any email address that contains something other than your first and last name or some version thereof is generally considered unprofessional. If a working adult sees an email from an address like the ones above, they’re less likely to take what you have to say seriously (if they read your email at all).
The key to a professional email address is keeping it simple. For example, you can use the format email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t try to personalize your email address by adding in numbers or a creative slogan (though adding a “1” or another single character to the end of your address is acceptable if all other versions of your name have already been taken).
If you don’t have an email address yet, make sure you create one with a professional format so that it can be handy for both personal and professional use. If you already have an email address but it’s unprofessional, it’s worth creating another one just for professional use; you’ll likely get more responses and solicit more respect from those with whom you trade emails.
Use a Simple, Clear Subject line
Another tool that working professionals use when trying to decide whether to open an email from an address they don’t recognize is to look at the subject line of the email. The subject line is meant to summarize the content of the email in a few words.
When you are crafting the subject line of your email, make it straightforward. Use 3-5 words to summarize what your email is about in its entirety. Don’t keep the receiver guessing with a subject line like “You need to see this” or “This is very important.” The odds are that they will think your message is spam and delete it.
Also, when crafting your subject line, don’t try to add any sort of punctuation or capitalization to make your email stand out. Adults are unlikely to open an email with a subject line in all caps or one with a million exclamation points.
Here are some examples of good and bad subject lines:
GOOD: Class Name 101: First Name Last Name Grade Change Request
BAD: FIX MY GRADE NOW!!!!!!
GOOD: Request for meeting on campus
BAD: You want to meet THIS student
GOOD: Job openings at [Business Name]
BAD: PLEASE hire me. I’m a very capable student.
Working professionals are often bombarded with so many emails each day that they don’t have time to address the ones that don’t look professional or like valuable uses of their time. If you want your email to get read, keep the subject line concise, informative, and use proper punctuation and capitalization.
Use Professional Salutations
If you are writing a formal email, you want to include a salutation at the beginning of your email as if you were writing a letter. This looks something like “Dear [Name of Recipient]”, and it’s a must for professional emails.
When addressing the recipient of the email in their formal salutation, make sure that you use their appropriate title. If they are a professor, call them Professor [Name]. If they have a PhD, address them as Dr. [Name]. Using the proper title for the person you are addressing is a common sign of respect.
Also, when addressing someone by name, make sure you use their full name. Don’t try to abbreviate or use a nickname. Unless they tell you in their reply that it is okay to call them something different (it’s usually fine to refer to a correspondent by the name they use in their signoff), be courteous and address them by their name and title.
If you don’t want to use the word “Dear”, you can use another greeting as long as it still sounds professional. For example, you could say “Hello” or “Good morning/afternoon” but maybe not “Yo” or “Howdy”.
If you don’t happen to know the name of the person you are emailing (like if you’re emailing a company at their email@example.com address), you should still use a professional salutation. The most common salutation in this instance is, “To Whom It May Concern.”
Don’t Mess With The Fonts
Email browsers allow you to write and send emails in a variety of fonts, but this is usually not advised. The most professional fonts are Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri. Also, make sure to keep your fonts at size 10-12.
You can use whatever font and colors you want when you are sending emails to your family and friends, but opt for simplicity when sending a professional email. If you don’t know which font to use, just stick with the default settings on your email browser.
You should use the first few sentences of your email to introduce yourself and explain to the recipient who you are. Don’t assume that they know who is emailing them based on your email address.
When introducing yourself, you should state your name, explain that you are a high school student, and explain why you are emailing them. If you had spoken to them once before about the subject you are emailing them about, you can mention that you really enjoyed that conversation. That should jog their memory and put a face to your name.
Here is an example of a good and bad introduction to an email you may send to a potential employer:
BAD: Hi there. My name is John Doe, and I want a job at your company.
GOOD: I hope this email finds you well. My name is John Doe, and I am a current Senior at CollegeVine High School. I am emailing to see if there are any job openings for high school students at your company.
Working adults don’t have a lot of time to check their emails and respond, so you don’t want to waste their time with an overly verbose email. When crafting your email, say what you need to say and get out quickly.
This is not to say that you should forego the introduction and conclusion of your email for the sake of keeping your email short. You should always include these and any details that you need to convey in your message; the key is making sure the writing in the body of your email is brief and to-the-point.
As a general rule, a few paragraphs of text in your email is more than enough. If you truly can’t say everything that you need to say in those few words, it may be worth meeting this adult in person instead to have a full conversation.
Use Exclamation Points Sparingly
Exclamation points, as a rule, are considered a tad unprofessional. If your sentence is particularly exciting or you feel that an exclamation point is necessary, go ahead and include it—just keep these sentences to a minimum.
If you decide to put an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, only put one exclamation point—don’t put multiple to make it sound more exciting. Putting multiple exclamation points can give your email an unprofessional and even immature tone, and won’t do you any favors as a high schooler looking to be taken seriously.
Add a Conclusion to Your Email
As you end your email, always thank the recipient for taking the time to read it. If you are trying to schedule a meeting or further contact with the person, you can say that you look forward to speaking to them again. Then, sign your name.
When you sign your name, use another professional salutation like “Sincerely” or “Best”. Again, keep the salutation professional. Signing your name with something cute like “see you later, alligator” may not be well received.
When you sign your name at the end, you can either use your full name or input a professional signature block. This includes your full name, high school and year of graduation (if you want), and contact information such as email address and phone number.
Double (and even triple) Check Your Email Before You Send It
Before you send your email, read it a few times to make sure that you have said everything that you need to say in a professional and concise manner.
Be sure to look out for common grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors in your email. Nothing says “unprofessional” like an email that does not follow proper writing standards.
Also look out for sentences or phrases that may be misconstrued by the recipient of your email. Sometimes, when you are writing out something you would normally say in person, the tone and intention of your words can get skewed. You don’t want to unintentionally offend the person you are emailing, so look out for sentences or phrases that could be taken the wrong way and change those to something more neutral.
After You Send Your Email
Professional emails are going to be very common as you enter college and the workforce, so it’s best if you learn how to write them now.
As a final piece of advice, you should remember that it’s okay to send a follow-up email to the recipient if they haven’t replied to you in at least a week. It is possible that your email went into their junk folder by accident or they saw your email but forgot to reply. You can send a follow-up email to gently remind them that you are awaiting a reply.
If you want to send a follow-up email, make sure it happens within two weeks of sending your initial email. This email should be even briefer than the last one. Simply thank them for their time and consideration and ask if they had a chance to look at your previous email. Make sure you are respectful of their time and effort in this email—you don’t want to sound entitled.
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders, and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academics, choosing courses, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and much more!
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.