I enjoy the casual evolution of our society: business casual at the office, interview clothing appropriate for the job (no more skirts and suits for every interview), presidential candidates sporting denims for specific stump speeches. Hell, even I wear denims, print t-shirts, and Vans shoes in the classroom. Hell, even I just used “hell” (three times in the first paragraph); now that’s casual.

And though most recognize that maintaining formality continues being a requirement in certain business and professional settings, we seem to have become too lax when it comes to formal communication, specifically email.

© Ruslana Stovner | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Ruslana Stovner | Dreamstime Stock Photos


As a college instructor, I see too much casual email from students, so much that some content eludes deciphering. Though I would never claim to have accepted a religious call to hike the educational Mt. Sinai for holy email commandments (way too much course grading to take time off for that excursion), I do have five suggestions to keep students from sending sinful emails.

Never Use an Unprofessional Email Username

Anything other than your name (including name embellishments) reeks unprofessional and should not be used for formal communication. You’ve graduated high school and it’s time to leave the childish things behind, including childish usernames. Imagine a scholarship committee reviewing applications and seeing the email username anarchistasshole. I’m guessing the committee quickly ushers the application through the paper shredder.

If you’ve been committing email blasphemy, there’s hope. Your college most likely offers you an email with your name as the username. And, you can probably have that email forwarded to your primary email account if you do not want to juggle multiple accounts. (Just remember not to reply from that other non-professional email you’ve been using since middle school.)

Even if you use the school’s email, that email probably won’t be available to you after you graduate or leave the school, so plan to start using an adult email username for post college communication. There are many email options and you will need a professional looking email username for job applications, bills, and adult communication. I have been using Gmail for a lot of years and though not an endorsement, I’ve had no problems; it’s very reliable.

Never Type in all Caps

It’s universally understood that typing in all caps is equivalent to shouting. I’m of the benefit-of-the-doubt personality when I see someone post in all caps on social media. Though forgiving, I don’t read it. It’s hard on the eyes and, well, it’s like having to stand next to a person WHO IS SHOUTING. So, do not ever, for any reason, type an email to a professor (or any person) in all caps.

Kathryn Vercillo’s article “What People Think When You Type in All Caps” mentions that email recipients might assume the all-caps-typer is an immature writer. Isn’t that what you want your writing professor to assume? Yeah, didn’t think so. If you want to avoid the academic confessional booth, be a mature writer and use capital letters only when required.

Never Submit a Rough Draft

Revise for Economy

Keep your email message short. If you assume instructors love reading, good assumption. But that would not include emails. Please do not miraculously become a long winded writer of emails, especially if you struggle meeting the minimum essay word/page requirements. Get to the point. Remember, your instructor might have hundreds of emails from other students as well as college-wide emails about committee meetings, department reminders, and new textbook editions in addition to those pesky (annoying) miscellaneous emails.

Think I’m exaggerating about hundreds of emails? Probably a little, but your instructors invest a lot of energy into categorizing, reading, and responding to emails, so please don’t add unnecessary time to your instructors’ busy schedules.

Revise for Clarity

No, your email is not an academic essay, but it’s also not a scratch pad of freewriting. There is way too much undecipherable content on social media (and, unfortunately, in college essays), and you are in college to rise above that mediocre, underachieving (possibly underprepared) writing.

© Scott Pehrson | Dreamstime Stock Photos
© Scott Pehrson | Dreamstime Stock Photos


I am not suggesting spending hours on a brief email. I am begging you to write like a college student so that your professor doesn’t exhaust any energy at the unintelligible email she just attempted to translate.

Revise for Stupid Questions

I am voicing on behalf of most instructors who constantly fight the myth that there are no stupid questions. Since education is about enlightening and expanding the mind, brace yourself for this important fact: There are stupid questions! If I have handed out a paper copy of an assignment including a class schedule and due dates, then sending me an email asking me when an essay is due is a very stupid question because you already have the answer. Wonder how much time is spent reading an email with a stupid question? Exactly the amount of time it takes to delete the stupid question email.

Never Leave the Subject Line Blank

There is a reason for that blank space. It’s so that you, the sender, will type relevant, important, and much needed info in the space provided. I mean, why do you think it is there? That question was rhetorical, but if you’re trying to answer, here’s the reason: The blank subject line is an opportunity for the sender to quickly communicate the subject of the email, hence “subject line.” Not using the subject line is one more opportunity for an email firewall to dump your important email into a spam folder, possibly to never be read or seen.

If sending an email to a professor, use the subject line to identify your class, day, and time, then add a word or phrase describing your email. For example, if you are in a comp II class at 10:30 on Tuesday and Thursday and you have a question about an essay assignment (not the due date; that’s a stupid question: refer to unforgivable email rough draft sin #3), your subject line might look like this: Comp II TR 10:30, Essay Question. If I receive this email with that informative and concise subject line, I’m giving it priority.

Never Assume a Prof Knows Your Expectations

In everyday life, most of us have expectations that are not communicated. Maybe you’ve done a nice gesture for someone and the person didn’t respond the way you had hoped. It’s not that person’s fault if you did not communicate your expectation. Unfortunately, those expectations carry into communication with professors.

Likewise, if you send an email offering information like, I’m not going to be in class today, but you don’t receive a response and expected one, it is not the professor’s fault. You had an expectation that was not communicated. When a student asks me why I didn’t respond to an email, I usually say, “Did your email ask a question?” The student usually follows my question with a blank stare: conversation over. If you expect an email response, you need to ask a question.

Another sinful expectation is the fantasy that your prof waits on student emails. Do you really expect professors to habitually check work email during the weekend or a semester break? If so, stop. I love teaching and it is definitely part of my quality of life. But I do have a life beyond school.

Don’t be the student who finally checks your fall semester grade Christmas Eve and is surprised your lack of attendance and assignment submissions earned you an F grade. In your (not really) surprised response meant to reveal your new educational priority (seen by your prof as wasted desperate energy), you hurriedly typed an unintelligible email (breaking email sin #3) at 7pm Christmas Eve.

Now you are (really) surprised that your prof (now on winter break) doesn’t cheat her family’s time during their holiday celebration by responding to your email. If this example is not you but you do wonder about a professor’s turn-around with emails, follow the 48 hour rule. If you have asked a question via email and have not received a response after 48 hours, send a follow-up email.

I have read that email has become archaic or that it will become less prominent as a communication tool, but in my experience, it has become the most prominent and formal communication tool, showing no slowdown in the immediate future. Therefore, using the above five suggestion will help students, or anyone, maintain much needed communication formality when using email in addition to much less time in educational penance due to blasphemous, sinful email mistakes.

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I am a firm proponent of daily routines and here’s why: I am more productive when my life remains guided by regularity. I do, however, allow myself freed from these habits when out of my semester responsibilities. But once back in school, I rely on routines that provide consistencies to help me remain productive.

Being a college student requires similar semester habits in order to stay organized. Juggling several classes and assignments as well as any extra-curricular college student activities requires continuity. This article focuses on three practical, daily occurrences that will promote college success: alarm clock consistency, study time consistency, and meal consistency.

Alarm Clock Consistency—Train Your Sleep

The first helpful habit promoting college success would be regular alarm clock use.

In the article “Organizing Your First Week/s of Classes,” I mention using a phone’s calendar for remembering important dates. Likewise, using the phone’s alarm with a consistent wake time contributes to keeping a routine. I know we are not all alike, but for me, my body adjusts to routines, and waking the same time weekdays is part of that. I know this because once my semester ends, I will wake without an alarm at the same time for several mornings the first couple weeks into an academic break.


Find out if your body will do the same. You might discover that you feel physically and emotionally better having a consistent routine that begins at the same time every morning.

Study Consistency—Train Your Brain

A second helpful habit promoting college success would be similar study times. I realize that out of class work is not necessarily consistent: you might study for a test one week and write an essay for a different class another week. But having other daily routines allows you to easily implement a similar study time.

Plan to study in the afternoon before dinner or maybe after dinner. Just be diligent in finding the best study time for you. Your brain will adapt to these repetitions and you will soon notice positive results in the classroom.

Meal Consistency—Train Your Stomach


One last helpful habit promoting college success would be regular meal times. Again, I eat at the same times for breakfast and lunch every weekday during the semester. My dinners, however, tend to be less routine but they are definitely not erratic.

Fortunately, college cafeterias maintain consistent meal times, which allow students to practice consistent eating schedules. If you use the college caf inconsistently because you opt to occasionally prepare your own meals, try to keep your meals on a regular schedule.

From personal experience, my intellectual and emotional health remains strong partly due to a regulated eating schedule. Having consistent daily meal times will not only help you keep your busy college life organized but it will also help your body work efficiently.

If your body is waking, studying, and eating at similar times, it’s probably going to be more efficient, and this will offer positive benefits for you in the classroom. Though these three suggestions seem minor and maybe even limiting to spontaneity, they are easy to do because they are practical, everyday needs.

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I’m guessing that the first class meeting or even the first week of classes is considered a “blow-off” by most students. I mean, it’s about the roster and syllabus, some snooze time for sure. Yet, there’s that nerd sitting in the front desk, removing a note pad from his backpack and scribbling on the page (I know because I’m that nerd). As an instructor, I definitely notice that person. I assume the student is making an effort to stay organized at the beginning of the semester, giving himself the best opportunity to succeed in college. I suggest two practical tips for college success: using calendars, making notes.

Use Phone or Pocket/Desk Calendar for Recording Important Dates

iphone home screen

I use my iPhone calendar for any date I need to remember. Six month dental cleaning—goes into the calendar. Need to transfer a textbook from home to office—into that day’s calendar, alerting me with a pop-up reminder when I know I’m home that night, so I can pack the book. But I don’t bog my phone calendar with every date. If I’m planning classes and need to remember three weeks in advance that I will have class in a computer lab rather than the assigned classroom, I write it on the college’s complimentary desk calendar.

Student budget doesn’t allow for a calendar? You should be able to locate a free one. My credit union gives them away as marketing. Check to see if any department on campus provides them, including the college bookstore. If your search proves unsuccessful, visit a dollar store. Starting a habit of calendar use will help organize your academic schedule.

calendar marked

Write Notes and Highlight Syllabi for Recording Important Policies

Another important aspect of keeping school life organized requires noting policies. When students are acclimating to academic life even as returning students, it’s that first week or even first few weeks of the semester that can be overwhelming, making it difficult to remember a professor’s aside comments about classroom expectations and policies.

Did she say she would drop a lowest test grade? That could really be important later in the semester. Does the syllabus state the department’s attendance policy? My freshman writing classes have an explicit attendance policy in the syllabi that I verbally and visually communicate the first week. In addition, I require an electronic open-syllabus exam the second week of class that alerts students again to the attendance requirement.

I’m continually surprised at the end of the semester when my students seem surprised they have violated this policy. The point I’m emphasizing: note taking isn’t just for lectures, so make and highlight notes, especially during those early semester classes.

The items I’ve mentioned: remembering test dates as well as classroom and syllabus policies, might be the difference of a final letter grade in a class. A lot of life efficiency concerns organization, and students who focus on staying organized will most likely be more successful during their academic careers.

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Part 1 of 3

Now that finals are over, your dorm room has been vacated, and you’re back in your childhood bed at home (or wherever you crash for the summer), it’s time to sleep. Well, that and evaluate your year at college. Here’s why you evaluate now rather than, say, the week before fall semester begins: your memory is fresh from spring semester. In the first of a three part series, I’ll cover social and class schedule and offer areas for improvement.

 Social Schedule

If it was your first year, you may have experienced some things you anticipated hearing about while you were still in high school: new friends, independence, wild parties. And while those may have initially sounded appealing, some negatives probably emerged. That new guy friend seemed a little too eager to hang out with your girlfriend, the socially awkward acquaintance constantly showed up when you needed to study, dad wasn’t available to wake you up like he did when you were in high school, and you cannot actually remember how you ended up in your bed (or another bed) after an off campus party. Social grade: C-

            Areas for improvement

  • Use more selectivity with new friends
  • Give yourself a curfew so you get more than three hours of sleep
  • Stay sober since, well, you are probably under-age

Remember that college isn’t that far removed from high school and, therefore, not that far removed from the high school drama, and I’m not referring to your high school’s theatre production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Though I’ve interacted with emotionally mature freshman and sophomores, there are probably just as many who have not quite grasped the need to evolve into adulthood and all its facets including social expectations.

That person who keeps hanging around when you need to study (or just need to be alone), set some boundaries by explaining what you need and why. Though disappointed, a good friend will understand. Find someone you keep wanting to be with to the detriment of your test study time? Remember that the test or assignment has a due date but your friendship doesn’t. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when you limit your social time then excel on the test. That’s passing the test of independence.


Most likely, that type of responsibility will help you weekday mornings when your alarm sounds, and instead of subconsciously snoozing the alarm or, worse, turning it off, you’ll actually get up and get to class—on time! And, guess what? You’ll probably see a positive grade change. Once you experience positive results from responsible study time, it will be easier honoring your own night curfew.

Similar to tests having due dates but not friendships, the same goes for social events not having due dates. Sure, you might miss a get-together, but I’m here to testify that get-togethers continue happening your entire life. Of course it’s tempting to party rather than study. But when you don’t get yourself back to your dorm or apartment at a decent time the night before class, you’re making it difficult to succeed at college.

Here’s why: the better rested your body and brain, the better you are prepared intellectually for class. An exhausted brain makes learning more difficult.

One last improvement for your social schedule that you might consider the most fun: parties. I made a sarcastic comment earlier about not knowing how you got home with an implicit connection to alcohol. But let’s be serious. The highest rates of sexual assault are among college age women and those usually involve alcohol. Though all of us need to protect ourselves, women are at a much higher rate for assault. So, here are considerations for promoting a safe evening: have a DB (designated buddy) and limit the alcohol (I would say if you are underage, then don’t drink, but the reality is that many of you choose to experiment before the legal age. I am in no way promoting alcohol consumption if you are underage, but the reality is that many of you will make the decision to do so.)

Have a rotating non-drinking schedule with trusted friends, preferably females if you are female. Similar to adults having designated drivers when alcohol is involved, college students can have designated buddies who refrain from alcohol. And if you are male, stop being part of the problem (hence, stop being criminals). Statistics show most sexual assaults on females are from friends or acquaintances. If she’s been drinking, then she she’s impaired and does not have the mental capacity to consent to sex. In addition to having a DB and limiting the alcohol, it’s not attractive or sexy when you drink so much you cannot even speak or walk.

 Class Schedule

Since dad didn’t make sure you were up like the old high school days, that 8am Comp class with attendance requirements wasn’t such a great idea. Maybe ANY 8am class isn’t a great idea. Consider the later slot time, or at least, not an early class every weekday morning. Did you nod off in the afternoon algebra class? Maybe a class right after lunch is counter productive. If so, take a later afternoon class after a lunch siesta. Did you take on a job mid semester for spending money but the wacky hours kept you from a consistent study time? Or worse, the late night shift caused you to actually sleep through your morning alarm. If the job isn’t a must, maybe hold off until summer. Class schedule grade: B

            Areas for improvement

  • Choose appropriate classes and times beneficial to you
  • Consider alternatives if a job is necessary

I had already graduated a bachelorette degree before I realized my most productive time was morning. It made sense: I was rested and my brain wasn’t polluted from the day’s events. That didn’t mean I only took morning classes. It meant, and still means, that I arrange my day (as much as I can) around what needs intellect and what doesn’t. For example, my optimum creative writing time is morning, so I for sure do not grade then.


I usually grade afternoons or nights because I’m using the technical part of my brain rather than the creative and that technical brain works much later in the day than the creative brain. How does this apply to you? Pay attention to your mental performance and adjust your schedule accordingly. Do you struggle keeping your eyes open for the early afternoon class? Then leave that time open for a nap or for doing something other than intellectual.

College can be a financial drain in a way that semester employment becomes a temptation. At my school, the local Amazon warehouse starts recruiting Christmas temporary help mid November and a lot of students worked late shifts and begin missing classes and even failing classes because the lure of holiday money is too great. I would suggest that those students would have done much better not working the seasonal job because their GPA’s took a dive. If you have to work, consider an on-campus job. Students rarely work late nights and the colleges usually accommodate student schedules. A college job might not bloat your bank account, but, then, that’s also not the goal while in school. Also, consider a summer job when classes are not a priority. You can work often and if you save your money wisely, you’ll have spending money through the semester.

This week’s column focused on evaluating your college social and class schedules as well as offering areas for improvement. Next week’s column will focus on three more areas for college life evaluation: your major, student opportunities, and diet.

Photo credit: © Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime Stock Photos; mag3737, Flickr

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