How to Write an Email to a Professor | College Freshman Guide

Quenosha Payton

 

Contacting your professors is something you’ll probably have to do frequently throughout college. Probably more often than you’d prefer. There’s no need to be intimidated, but there are a few things you should keep in mind before reaching out.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that any email you send to your professor should be written with a professional tone. Remember, the person you’re addressing has the ability to make a drastic impact on your education. Your professor, as an expert in their field, holds the key to the information you need and can even help point you in the right direction toward your future career. It is important to make a positive impression every time you contact them, as your correspondence can influence whether they seek you out for additional opportunities for growth, including internships and assistantships.

If you’re uncertain about your ability to write professionally, there are a few tools available to help you gain confidence and correct any mistakes. For instance, the text-editing service Grammarly offers a free browser extension to help users write correctly, checking for syntax, spelling, punctuation, and style. Its corrections and modifications come with helpful explanations, allowing you to make informed decisions about how you edit your final draft. Tools like Grammarly are invaluable for any student, providing real-time editing for not only emails to faculty, but also any kind of class writing assignment.

Tips for emailing your professor:

Use your academic account.

  • You have a .edu email address for a reason! Don’t communicate with your embarrassing “harrystyles_luvr13xx” email address from the middle school

Make the subject line clear.

  • The sooner your professor knows what you’re asking, the sooner they’ll be able to help you.

Use a professional greeting.

  • Avoid addressing professors as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” Acknowledge their status and make sure you know their correct titles (Dr., Professor, etc.

Thoroughly identify yourself.

  • Even if your class size is small, your professor has plenty of other responsibilities, classes, and students. Help your professor recognize you quickly by introducing yourself with your first and last name as well as the title and section number of your class.

Remain formal.

  • Remember: this is not a text message! Do not use abbreviations, emojis, or slang.

Communicate clearly and concisely.

  • If you cannot articulate your specific need in one or two sentences, give them an idea of what you need help with and ask to set up a face-to-face meeting with them.

Be polite.

  • Your professor is a human being with feelings, so “please” and “thank you” goes a long way. And it never hurts to add a line wishing them a great weekend or good afternoon!

End with a formal acknowledgment.

  • “Thank you,” “Best,” and “Sincerely,” followed by your first and last names are always safe choices.

Follow up.

  • Remember that your professors may have to keep track of hundreds of students at a time. If they don’t get back to you promptly, follow up in person either before or after your next class with them.

For a bit of extra help, we’ve also provided some examples and practical tips for specific instances in which you may be writing to a professor:

Inquiring about Your Grade

When reaching out with a question or concern regarding your grade, remember that, for privacy purposes, your professor is not likely to share certain information with you via email. If you’re unable to attend their office hours to ask your question in person, request to set up an appointment at a time that otherwise fits your schedules. Below is a good example of how to email a professor about your grades.

Good afternoon Professor X,

My name is X X, and I am in your Thursday-morning English I class, section 4231. I am unable to attend your office hours this week, but I was wondering if I could set up an appointment with you to discuss my grade on Essay #1. I did not understand some of your notes and was hoping to meet with you for clarification. Please let me know if you have any availability this week.

Thank you for your time and have a great evening.

Best,

X X

Asking for a Reference

Another occasion in which you may need to email a professor is when you’re looking for a professional reference. Again, your professor is a respected expert in their field, so their recommendation can do wonders for both your academic and professional growth. That said, it’s important to make your request for their reference as easy as possible for them; they are busy and have likely received many similar requests from other students. Be polite, concise, and clear as you communicate exactly what you need from them. And if you need their reference by a specific deadline, make sure you include it in your request with ample time to complete your request. Below is an example of such an invitation.

Hello Dr. X,

This is X X from your ABC2000 class of Fall 2017. I thoroughly enjoyed your class and want to say thank you for a great semester. I am now applying for the _________ Program, which is a curriculum designed to enhance the professional skills of engineering majors at this university. I am emailing you to inquire whether you would be willing to comment on my potential as an environmental engineering researcher? I would simply need to provide your name as a reference along with your contact information.

Thank you once again. I greatly appreciate your time.

Sincerely,

X  X

 

Asking a General Question

Last, but not least, really take care to check your class syllabus or assignment instructions before asking your professor a question via email. In many cases, professors will have already addressed several of the most frequently asked questions within the first few days of class at the beginning of the semester. Review all the materials you’ve collected from the class before approaching your professor. The last thing you want to do is bug them about something they’ve already given you an answer to. Communicate a level of commitment and respect by thoroughly reviewing your information and ensuring that you still need to contact your professor.

Other students in your class can prove to be another valuable resource. Each of your professors likely teach multiple classes, conduct research out of class, or do work for another job on campus or elsewhere. They are not obligated to communicate the same information multiple times! If you were unable to attend a class, do not ask your professor about what you missed. Always go to a classmate first!

Your professor’s goal is to help you succeed, but it is not their responsibility. Show them your dedication to success with adequate preparation and careful language. Learning to write clear, concise, professional emails to your professors is an excellent practice in taking ownership of your education—not to mention good training for future communication with an employer!

 

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