How to Email a Professor: Graduate Application

Most undergraduates and even new graduate students are confused about how to write an email to contact a professor to serve as a potential graduate school advisor. 

This can be a hotbed, knowing that the email inquiry sent to a professor is one of the important steps in your graduate school process. It could make or mar you, you have the opportunity to make a first impression on the person who will play an important role in your academic life.

Professional email etiquette is not often taught which makes sending that first email all the more difficult. Your emails should be straightforward, formal, different from emailing a friend or family member, have an informative subject line, be concise, be formal: Dear Dr Smith; Sincerely, Your Name, not use Mrs. or Ms., NOT have slang, abbreviations, or emoticons.

Do not send this sort of email:

“Hi, Professor West,

I am a student at XXX College and I’m thinking about graduate school 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 kind is an instant-delete email. 


Informal salutations have nothing to do with your email. Start your email to a professor with a “Dear” or “Hello”. This is email etiquette 101 and must be followed in professional emails. “Hey” or “Hi” is too casual for this situation and too informal. 

Title and Name

Your salutation should be followed by the professor’s title and name. It is an important way to show respect for your professor and their position and training. Omitting the title or using the wrong one may offend your professor. Instructors should be addressed as “Professor” or “Doctor” then add their last name. Make sure to correct and double-check the spelling of their name before you hit send.

Provide Good Context

Most professors receive tons of email applications, hundreds of students want to get his attention. You need good context to give you a vantage point and make him reply to your mail. This is important because you’re emailing them for the first time. You can write about your previous research, work experience, or other skills which are relevant to the professor’s research area.  You can get information about current and previous research projects of professors by visiting the official website of the lab or research area.

Use a Subject line and Keep it Short

Professors get a lot of emails so make sure your request is simple and to the point. Go straight to the point so the professor doesn’t have to read the email multiple times to figure out what you want. Your email needs to have a subject line. Not only does a subject line help the professor, but it also keeps your email out of the spam folder. The subject line should be a simple, strong, attractive information-based subject line and reflect the content of your email. Something like “Request for research provision” is appropriate. The subject line will help the professor to guess about the contents of your email even before opening it.

Be Professional

Your email should be professional and should be reflected in your email to them. This means that you must spell out words fully and use proper grammar (including capitalization and punctuation) when writing your message. Do not use any emojis. They have become a de rigueur form of communication, but they do not belong in a professional email. Read over the email to check for typos before you send it.

Sign Off with a formal acknowledgment

At the end of the email, you could mention that your CV is attached and also indicate your willingness to provide additional information if it is requested.

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

Subject: Request for MS and Research supervision

“Dear Professor XXX,

My name is 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 colleges [summer program in xxx/internship program in xxx/Honors College/etc.].

I am planning to attend graduate school in XXX, with a focus on XXXU.  In one of my classes, “XXX,” which was taught by Professor XXX, I had the chance to read your article, “XXX.”  I 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.  My specific project will likely focus on XXXX, and I am particularly interested in exploring the question of XXXX.

I hope you don’t mind my getting in touch, but I’d like to inquire whether you are currently accepting graduate students.  If you are, would you 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.  I have also attached my CV with this email

Thanks very much,



If you do not get a response from the professor in a week or so, send a follow-up email gently reminding them of your initial email, and asking again for their response.  If you are ignored, best to probably give up. It may take a little extra effort to get through because professors are busy and distracted,

Good luck!

Share this: