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

***Please note that I no longer respond to comments/questions to this post!  For additional help, see a list of individualized services to help you in your path to graduate school, and the Guidance Package, both offered below the post***

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,



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!

***Please note that I no longer respond to comments/questions to this post!  For additional help, see a list of individualized services to help you in your path to graduate school, and the Guidance Package, below***





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Encapsulates all of the advice that we provide in our graduate school advising services, including:

1. General instructions and overview of the function and “best practices” of an initial query email to someone you hope to work with

2. A template for what an email like that should look like

3. A sample email to a business school prospective advisor

4. A sample email to a comparative literature prospective advisor

5. A sample email to a computer science prospective advisor.





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How Do You Write an Email or Letter to a Professor? — 22 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.


  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.


  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.

  6. Pingback: How to send an email to your college professor - CengageBrainiac

  7. Pingback: How to Take Ownership of Your Communication

  8. So basically you would like to read a wall of pointless text rather than a straight to the point email? I thought professors would be a bit more down to earth considering the amount of knowledge they are supposed to have .

    I agree that the example email is a bit short , but it’s in no way rude. You see that graduate student is more likely to surpass you at some point than you probably think. There is no need for whoever is emailing you to kiss up to you in order for you to just speak to him.

    • Well said, Vlatkozelka. Especially, “Professors would be a bit more down to earth considering the amount of knowledge they are supposed to have”. I find this this professor (author) demanding and rude.

  9. Great info, just one question., what about the subject for the e-mail? I’m guessing it plays an important part on whether they read it or not.

  10. I loved the sample letter. But I would highly suggest students actually condense it. Condense the letter and have it remain informative of who you are, what your research interests are, and if possible leave space for asking for feedback on a specific question or inquire into a specific project or program they may be working on.

    It should only be one paragraph. Professors like any working professional do not have the time to read a long letter from a student. If you don’t hear back from them, follow up with them. Simple as that.

  11. Dear Karen, Hi

    I am writing a letter of job-recommendation request to my supervisor. would it be right that I mention the email address of job application in the email to my supervisor, or it would be better in a second email after my supervisor reply to my first email?

    thank you so much


  12. Hi,
    I need to write to my professor. I have a learning disability and I am taking my exam outside my class and in the assisted program on campus. My professor gave us a test guidelines which allowed us to bring a note card. However, I did not use the test guideline and I brought three note cards in my test. The test accommodation center collected my exam and all my notes away and did not let me finish the exam. I went to my professor right away and she called the accommodation center. She said she will think about what action she would take for as my consequences. She said she would email me, but I told her not to use my campus email because I am no longer using that anymore. She said she will email me and use the one in the campus record. I did not argue anymore, and just told her that I will update my e-mail. When I was about to leave the room, she said to email her what email address do I want to use. So, I am about to write her an email, but I do not know what to say. Please help me how to better approach her about my situation.

  13. How do I address a letter to an Assistant Professor who doesn’t have a Ph.D.? We’re told not to call them Dr.’s if they don’t have a Ph.D. and she doesn’t have a Ph.D. She is a lawyer with a J.D. But lawyers insist on not calling themselves Dr.’s. They go by Ms. or Mr. But calling her Ms. would disrespect her academic accomplishments as an assistant professor of the school. Moreover, I can’t call her “Assistant Professor XXXX” because we’ve been told not to use “Assistant Professor” (or shortened) as a title, and not to call them “Professor” (or shortened), if they are not a full-professor. Well, she’s not a full-professor. She’s just an assistant professor with a J.D. So what do I call her?

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