Using Email as a College Student

People love to make the case that email is dying. I’ve heard again and again that it’s a poor form of communication, makes no sense in a connected world— even that it’s an epidemic.

Look, things like Slack are great. Just don’t expect me, as a college student, to stop using email anytime soon:

It’s about midday and I’ve opened, read, and replied to 30 emails today.

At a glance, that may not seem like much. But remember— that doesn’t count all the notifications that I need (but immediately archive). That doesn’t count purely-informational newsletters (like Medium Top Stories) or email-based alerts that no one replies to. It’s only email that I’ve read and replied to. The total number of conversations exceeds 120.

Lots of Email. Lots of Time.

As someone in college, your time is worth a whole lot more than it has ever been in the past. That’s why you should care. Either you’re being efficient with your email, you’re ignoring a whole lot of stuff you could be handling well, or you’re straight up wasting time.

The email experience boils down to two basic things:

Consumption

First and foremost, you’re going to suck at replying to messages if you can’t effectively parse your inbox. Personally, I use Inbox on mobile and Mailbox on Mac (Inbox does have a web app, but it’s bloated and certainly doesn’t feel native). Either way, you need to:

  • Use Archive well. As soon as a conversation gets resolved, swipe right (no— not that kind of swipe). Archive the thread, and clear it from your inbox. Having 10,000 read things in your Inbox doesn’t do you any good. Don’t worry— just because it’s not in your inbox doesn’t mean it’s gone. Keep your attention to active conversations. I rarely have >20 threads in my inbox at a time— the fewer you see when you open your app, the better.
  • Search efficiently. This one’s really easy, and it ties into the last one. It’s not in your inbox, but you should never scroll through irrelevant messages to find what you want. Most email apps have incredibly good search algorithms. Offload all your efforts. That’s your main goal with every aspect of email.
  • Combined, not separate. I’ve seen this way too many times— students still use a separate portal for their college email. Import the account. There is no excuse for having to load two websites.

Composition

I compose ~45% of my emails on mobile, and I’m able to do that because of my general philosophy regarding emails— whether it’s another student, a professor, someone in industry…anyone. It’s nothing special, but it is important.

Let’s look at a type of email I would hate to receive:

Hello Professor,
Hope you’re having a cordial day. I thoroughly enjoyed your class this morning, and I’ve been arduously working on the homework assignment.
I have enclosed a rough draft of Set 4, and I would be grateful if you could review it.
Thanks for considering my request. Let me know if you need anything else from me. Have a nice evening, and see you in class tomorrow.
Best Regards,

Ok, so it’s a bit artificial. But this really is something people do—

  • Cut the bullshit. Don’t fluff your email like you fluff your essays. ☺ Honestly, there’s no better way to say that. Formality doesn’t help anyone— you take more time, and people have more to parse (and they even could feel the obligation to return it).
  • Keep it short— tell the recipient what you want. Pretty much all the email you’re going to be sending is a request. They’re doing you a favor, and you should value their time — trust me, being ‘nice’ has nothing to do with being formal. Keep it to the point, and show you care about the other things they have to do. That’s nice.
  • Emails aren’t to impress. Don’t use random big words— clarity is first and foremost.

Rephrased:

Hello Professor,
Hope you’re well. Set 4 is attached; let me know if I need to revise anything.
Have a good weekend!
Best,

It’s not trite to the point of rudeness. That’s the key— keeping it short without making it sound standoffish. Don’t be afraid of short emails:

Cool, makes sense— thanks!

Slightly longer:

Hey Alex,
Are you free for coffee? Let’s catch up next week. Been working on my thesis, and I’ve made some progress on research.
How does Monday look for you?
Best,
Bob

Note that if you’re making a specific request, you need to suggest a specific action item (meet— when?)


Whether you think Email sucks or not, it’s important enough that you can’t afford to suck at it, especially if you’re in college.


If you found this blog post at all relevant to you or thought it was cool pressing the “Recommend” button below would mean a lot to me! ☺