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I think for a student, it's ok to go first name from the first email forward. They don't have titles. I've gotten a number of emails from current undergrad students looking for me to help them out with job internships, etc that start off Dear Mr. X, and I just think it's awkwardly formal. Just my opinion though.
You can always err on the side of formality, but I think you can change to First name after the first email. I'll usually reply with whatever they use in the previous email after the closing. If they say "Sincerely, Prof. X", then I'll keep it Prof. X. If they sign off as Robert, I'll go Robert the next time.
I agree with the previous poster on addressing emails to students. I wouldn't have any problem with a prospective addressing an email to me with my first name, and would probably think an email addressed to Mr. Lastname is a little awkward.
As for professors, I would suggest sticking with Professor Lastname or Prof. Lastname throughout, even if they sign their emails with their first name. I can't think of any students here, even in casual settings, who address professors by their first name.
For admissions officers I'd start as Mr/Ms Lastname, but you probably have more leeway to switch to first names if they do so in their email.
You won't get yourself into any trouble by being formal, especially if you don't know them. I can tell you that at Emory today, everyone called everyone else by their first names, even when a current student addressed the assistant dean. Maybe they'd be more formal in an email, I don't know.
Thanks for the input! I think it's better safe than sorry. I've been finding that a lot of people won't actually sign their name, they just write "Best," and let their email signature do the rest. So it's tough to know what they prefer. I've been emailing a program director who has stopped actually addressing me at all - she just launches right into her responses. But I'm a little uncomfortable responding in kind.
I guess I'm just entirely overthinking it - a problem this application process has certainly encouraged....
Re: contacting school officials
25 Jan 2010, 10:21