How Do You Write an Email or Letter to a Professor?

One of the most common points of confusion among undergraduates and new graduate students is how to contact professors to serve as potential faculty advisors.  This can be a minefield.   I have been on the receiving end of many emails from hapless students who clearly had no guidance, and whose communication with me ended up appearing flippant and rude.

Here is that sort of email:

“Dear Professor Kelsky, I am a student at XXX College and I’m thinking about graduate school/doing research on xxx and I’m getting in touch to ask if you can give me any advice or direction about that. Sincerely, student X”

This is an instant-delete email.

Here is what an email to a professor should look like:

“Dear Professor XXX,

I am a student at XXX College with a major in xxx.  I am a junior and will be graduating next May.  I have a 4.0 GPA and experience in our college’s summer program in xxx.

I am planning to attend graduate school in xxx, with a focus on xxx.  In one of my classes, “xxx,” which was taught by Professor XXX, I had the chance to read your article, “xxxx.”  I really enjoyed it, and it gave me many ideas for my future research.  I have been exploring graduate programs where I can work on this topic.

I hope you don’t mind my getting in touch, but I’d like to inquire whether you are currently accepting graduate students.  And if you are, if you’d be willing to talk to me a bit more, by email or on the phone, or in person if I can arrange a campus visit, about my graduate school plans.  I have explored your department’s graduate school website in detail, and it seems like an excellent fit for me because of its emphasis on xx and xx,  but I still have a few specific questions about xx and xxx that I’d like to talk to you about.

I know you’re very busy so I appreciate any time you can give me.  Thanks very much,

Sincerely,

XX XXX

Why is this email good?  Because it shows that you are serious and well qualified.  It shows that you have done thorough research and utilized all the freely available information on the website.  It shows that you have specific plans which have yielded specific questions.  It shows that you are familiar with the professor’s work.  It shows that you respect the professor’s time.

All of these attributes will make your email and your name stand out, and exponentially increase your chances of getting a timely, thorough, and friendly response, and potentially building the kind of relationship that leads to a strong mentoring relationship.

If the professor doesn’t respond in a week or so, send a follow up email gently reminding them of your initial email, and asking again for their response.  If they ignore you again, best to probably give up.  But professors are busy and distracted, and it may take a little extra effort to get through.

Good luck!

(This post originally published on the blog, Project Graduate School–http://www.projectgraduateschool.wordpress.com).


Comments

How Do You Write an Email or Letter to a Professor? — 7 Comments

  1. How to write an e-mail to professor confused me for a week. However, after googling it and reading your kindly and specific post about it, I feel more relaxed now! It really helps me a lot. Thank you, and hope you have a great day though it’s very hot.^^

  2. karen,

    really a good stuff, i have completed my law but rather than degree i am getting a diploma, as i have not cleared in all the subjects, can u please help me in writing a letter to my professor is there any way of getting my degree certificate by asking any tips or to send my diploma certificate.

    Thanks
    munna

  3. It helped me a lot. I wish it would be better to have some details on what information that a professor might look at of a postgraduate student. It will be complete if it is there.

    Thanks
    Regards

  4. Your sample letter was great. Actually this kind of perfect examples are able to give undergraduate or even graduate and postgraduate students – specially non-English – really good ideas of how to write a proper academic letter.
    Best Regards

  5. Thank you so much for this article. It helped me a lot because english is not my native language and I was having a hard time writing an email for an english speaker researcher.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>