How to Write an Email to a Professor
September 16, 2019
How to Write an Email to a Professor
When you're in college, you will get lots of advice, and here’s some more: work on having good communication with your professors! Building a strong rapport with your professors is the key to gaining trusted academic advisors, career coaches, and personal mentors. While most of your interactions with a professor will happen in class or through office hours, it’s especially important that you’re able to relate to your professors in a professional and appropriate way over email. When you’re thinking about how to write an email to a professor, you never want to come across as too formal or stiff, but you also don’t want to seem cavalier - especially when talking to an esteemed professional in your field!
Whether you’re simply asking for more information about an assignment, or requesting something as significant as a letter of recommendation, make sure you’re leaving the right impression. It can seem intimidating at first - especially figuring out the right content and format professors expect from you. Follow our tips to make sure you’re on top of your game when it comes to how to write an email to a professor.
“Dear Professor X” - Start off on the right foot! When it comes to the topic of how to write an email to a professor, it's appropriate to start your email with “Dear” or “Hello” if it’s your first time contacting the professor in question. If you’ve regularly corresponded before, saying “Hi” can also work - but you might not be at that level yet. Use your best judgment.
The next key step in how to write an email to a professor is to nail the honorific - as in “Professor,” or “Dr.” (I’m also personally a fan of the abbreviated “Prof.”). It’s most common to use Professor, but if your instructor has a PhD and isn’t a professor (for example, if they’re a postdoctoral researcher), then “Dr.” may also be appropriate. If you’ve met them already, you might remember what they asked to be called in class. Do not address your professor with a gendered title like “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Although that’s a fairly acceptable convention at most high schools, it’s immature and unprofessional in college.
Finally, although there’s an “X” in the template - triple check that you’re spelling the actual professor’s name correctly! Note any hyphens, capitalization patterns, or unique spellings, and ensure to respect them when drafting your email. A typo in the professor’s name will not make a good first impression.
“I hope you enjoyed the weekend!” It never hurts to open your email by saying something kind, conscientious, or friendly. If you don’t know the professor well, you can say something general, like “hope you’re enjoying the weather today” or “hope you had a lovely break.” It acknowledges that your professor is a person (with a life outside of school!) and it’s a polite thing to include in any email.
“I’m in your 11:00 a.m. Wednesday section of Literary Methods.” While you may know your professor by name and face, if it’s a large class, or you’ve only recently started the semester, there’s a very good chance that your professor doesn’t know you by name quite yet. Please be kind to your professor and make it easy for them to understand how you know them - are you in their class? Are you hoping to enroll in a class next semester and need to get off the waitlist? Did you meet at a networking or faculty event? When thinking about how to write an email to a professor for the first time, it’s crucial to provide the context to make it clear how you know them, and to frame what’s coming up next: your request.
“I was hoping we could meet in person to talk about the upcoming paper.” This is where you can get to the real reason why you’re emailing - whether it’s to ask for an extension, to make an appointment for office hours, or to ask a clarifying question about an assignment. Be conscientious about what you’re asking. Is the answer you’re looking for already in the syllabus? Are you asking too close to a deadline for your professor to see it in a timely manner? Are you making excuses for why you can’t submit something on time when really, you should have prioritized differently?
Make sure you’re not asking for something that might irk your professor - if you plan to ask if you missed anything in class on Monday, chances are that it’s better to ask a classmate for any materials or notes than insinuate to your professor that there’s nothing to miss. If you’re asking for something specific (feedback on a paper draft, to fill out a form, etc.) then mention any deadlines that you would need them to meet. This will ensure that your request makes it to their to-do list, and doesn’t get lost in a pile of emails.
“If you could let me know if you’re available to meet on Thursday at 4:15, I’d really appreciate it.” When thinking about how to write an email to a professor, you want to make it clear that you’re thankful for their time, response, and efforts. Before you sign off your email, you need to re-state your request, but in a tone that’s extra polite and appreciative.
“Thanks, X” You can close your email in a variety of ways (“Thank you,” “Thanks,” “Sincerely,” “Best”) and none of them really have any benefit over the other. I tend to defer to saying thank you, especially if I’m asking for something particular, because it comes across as polite and grateful.
Other Things to Consider When it Comes to How to Write an Email to a Professor
- Use your university or college affiliated email, not your personal one. If you email a professor from a personal account, there’s a very good chance that it will bounce back or get sent directly to their spam folder as an unrecognized email. You also want to seem professional - princessrockstar200 is going to seem inappropriate.
- Make the most of the subject line. When it comes to how to write an email to a professor, keep your communication direct and clear, so that your reader has a good sense of what you’re going to ask for based on the subject line. For example, for the template above, I’d title the email “Office Hours on Thursday.”
- Follow up, but within reason. If it’s been a week since you’ve sent your email and there’s been no response, then it’s okay to follow up in person or over email. You want to repeat the first two steps - the salutation and nicety - and then include something simple like “I’m just following back up on my earlier email. When would be a good time to meet?” While professors are notorious for being slow emailers, there’s also a good chance you may have slipped through their inbox on accident. Or maybe they had good intentions to respond - but other things got in the way.
Learning how to write an email to a professor is a skill that’s going to carry you through your academic and professional career. Realistically, a respectful and polite email is much more likely to garner the response that you want, while also nurturing your relationship with the professor. After reading these tips, you should feel confident and ready to strike up the perfect balance and tone in your next email - just make sure you check the syllabus for the answer to your question first!