Are you thinking of reaching out to a professor who you really want to work with? Writing an email to this professor is not a bad idea. If you can somehow get the professor willing to take you on as his/her advisee, your chance of admission can be significantly improved.
The question is: how do you contact a professor in the right way? Is there a way to grab the professor’s eyeball so that the professor is willing to reply to your email?
Writing emails is not that difficult. You may not have been formally taught how to write an email, but chances are high that you have written some email to your professors in college. You just need to learn some basic principles and execute them in English.
Interested? Please read on and learn email etiquettes. You can also find good and bad examples at the bottom!
What Items to Include?
1. A Clear Subject Line
Make sure to use a clear subject line. The subject line does not need to be long. Just type a couple of words that summarize the essence of your email.
If you want to express your interest in applying for a graduate program, the subject line, “Interest in Applying for Your MA [or Ph.D.] Program”, should clearly convey the purpose of your email.
If you have some questions about the program, maybe the subject line can be, “Inquiries about Your Graduate Program”. If you want to ask if a professor is currently accepting a Ph.D. student advisee, “Prospective Ph.D. Student Interested in Your Research” might work.
2. Salutation, Title, & Name
Start your email to your professor with a “Dear” or “Hello”. Just follow this rule.
Do NOT use “Hey” under any circumstances. Some people think “Hi” is a bit informal.
Then, type the professor’s title and last name. If you omit the title or use the wrong one, the professor might have a poor impression with you. If the professor has a Ph.D. (typically you can check it on the professor’s university page), use “Dr.” If you are not sure, use “Professor”
Make sure to double check the spelling of their name before you hit send.
3. Introduce Yourself
Then, write 1 sentence to introduce who you are – your name, major, year, and university.
4. Provide Context – Why You’re Writing this Email
After your self-introduction, explain why you are writing this email and contacting the professor.
Here you can also elaborate a little on yourself such as your academic interest and professional and/or research experience. Whatever details you provide must be relevant to the purpose of your email.
Make it clear what you are asking – are you writing an email to request a meeting or just to have the professor aware that you are planning to apply for the program? If the former, make sure that you ask if it would be possible for you to meet with the professor (phone, video chat, or face-to-face).
5. Show You have Done Research
Somewhere in your email text, indicate that you have spent some time learning the professor and the department. “I have enjoyed reading your research”, “I have visited the department’s website to learn about your program” would do”, “Given your program’s focus on xxx”.
6. Make Connections between Your and Professor’s Interests
In the same paragraph, emphasize that you see a great match between your and the professor’s interests.
Add something like, “Your research on XXX made me think about xxx”, “Your recently published article, XXX, inspired my project on xxx”, “I wish to pursue my research interest in under your guidance”.
7 (optional) Attachment
If you have your curriculum vitae ready, it would be ok to attach it to your email. Some people might recommend doing so once you receive a response from the professor. But, from my experience, I would prefer receiving everything in one email.
If you choose to attach a file, you can say something like “Please see the attached CV for more details about my experience” or “Allow me to attach my CV to this email in case you would like to know more about my work”.
8. Thank for their Time
The professor is busy but takes time to read your email. So, it’s only right to express your gratitude.
Nothing special. Write something like, “Thank you very much for taking the time to read my email.”
If you want a reply from the professor, you can add something like “Thank you very much for your time. I would greatly appreciate it if you could kindly reply to this email.”
Some people use the phrase, “I look forward to receiving your reply”. But to me, it’s a little too push, imposing your expectation on the professor.
9. Sign Off
End the email with a sign off followed by your name, for example, “Best regards”, “Respectfully”, “Very sincerely and respectfully”.
I know there are minor differences in nuance, but do not overthink about it. Add one of the above at the end of your email.
1. Keep it Short
Professors are busy. They get a lot of emails every day.
So, make their work easy. No need to beat around the bush as we Asians often do. Help them easily figure out what your email is all about. As you can see below, use our simple 4-paragraph template.
2. Do Your Research and Ask Relevant Questions
Before you contact the professor, make sure to do some research on the professor and the professor’s Department. Do not ask anything that you can easily find on the Web.
Questions about tuition should be found on the university website – you don’t need to ask the professor about it. The professor most likely would not reply to your email.
3. Write Professionally
Treat your email as a professional business letter. No exclamation marks. No emojis. Make sure the professor’s name is spelled correctly. Before you send your email, read it over a few times to make sure your email is free of any errors.
4. Send It from a Credible Email Address
If your university gives you a university email address, use it. That’s the best option to make your email look credible. Your email won’t be filtered by spam email filter.
When you send an email from a not-so-credible email address, the professor might become skeptical and not open your email even if the email passes through the spam filter.
5. Do not Expect an Instant Response
The professor is busy. If you don’t get an immediate reply, that’s ok. Nothing unusual. Maybe the professor will reply on Friday or the weekend.
Wait for about a 1 or 2 weeks. If you do not receive a reply, write a gentle reminder (see below). If you still do not get any response, probably give up. But you never know. You might get a reply long after you give up!
6. Do Not Ask Too Much
I have received emails from prospective students asking me to read their papers and give them some feedback. That’s just too much. You are not the professor’s advisee yet. If anything,
Bad Email Example
Hi Prof Ku,
My name is John Doe. I study Marketing at Fudan University in China.
I am interested in [Topic of Your Interest] and thinking of going to graduate school. Looking at your department’s website, I think your program is a good fit for me. I would like to ask if you can give me any advice on the application process and what materials I need to provide.
The above email looks ok, but the professor would not reply to it, because the first part of the question (…give me any advice on the application process…”) is too vague and the second part (…what materials I need to provide) should be readily found on the department website.
Good Email Example
Dear Dr. Ku,
Hello, my name is John Doe. I am a student in the Department of Marketing at Fudan University in China. I am currently a senior and expect to graduate this coming May.
I am writing this email to ask if you are accepting a new graduate student advisee. Through my undergraduate coursework, I have developed a passion for social media marketing. In one class, “Digital Marketing”, I actually read your published article, “[Article Title]”. I really enjoyed reading it, and it made me want to better understand why and how targeted political advertising in digital platforms affect electoral behavior.
Given your expertise as well as the program’s emphasis on political campaigning, I think your program would be a great fit for my research interest. Attached, please find my CV for my academic qualifications.
Please do not spend time replying to this email. I just wanted to introduce myself and express my interest in applying for your program. Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this email. I really appreciate it.
Very sincerely and respectfully,
If you want to ask some detailed questions to the professor, change the paragraph “Please do not spend time…” to something like
If you are willing to accept a new graduate student, would it be possible to ask you a few specific questions? I would like to properly understand your expectations and prepare myself for graduate work. If it was easier for you, I could call you or visit your office whenever it is convenient for you.
Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this email. I really appreciate it.