Applying to Grad School – Emailing Professors 101

Original Post; Image from Google Search

So it was around this time of month that I had started emailing potential research advisers at the various universities I wanted to attend. I wanted to make sure that before I actually applied to the schools, the professors I liked were accepting students. I mean, there’s no point on waiting an application fee on a school that doesn’t can’t offer you the research you want, right?

Sounds simple enough, until you start writing the email and stare at a blank screen for hours.

Does it make sense? Do I sound desparate? Is it too boring? Is it too long? Will they even read it? What if I sound stupid! Ahhhh! *runs in circles*

Well, having been there merely a year ago, I give to you the recipe for a good introductory email to potential research advisers!

The subject line:

This is how to catch their attention. As professors scroll through endless emails, their eyes fall on key words. This must be short, sweet and too the point. Most importantly, never ever leave it blank. What easier thing to skip than a [No Subject] email? Here are some suggestions for good subject lines:

  • Prospective Grad Student Inquiry
  • Interested Student Researcher
  • Interest in Graduate Research

Phew, that’s step one. Onto the actual email!

The Introduction: 

Well, they’re going to want to know who you are, obviously. However, how much information is too much? Of course they’re not going to want your life story, but a simple name won’t really suffice either because then how do they know you’re qualified?

These next few sentences should summarize both an overview of your qualifications and what department you are applying for at your desired grad school. Again, short and sweet is what you’re aiming for. For example:

Dear Professor ____,

My name is [First & Last Name] and I am a graduating senior at [University] and will be receiving [Degree] this [graduating month]. I (am interested in applying)/(have applied to) [Grad School’s] Department of [Discipline] next fall and am planning to focus on [something specific about the research you want to pursue that is relevant to their work].

Selling yourself

This part of your email is especially important if they were recommended to you by someone they’ve worked with in the past. As annoying as it is, your networks can get you places even if some qualifications are lacking. If you already have all the qualifications, networks get you a better chance of being acknowledged. Therefore, the next paragraph or two of your email should include how you became familiar with your work (if it was in a way other than “I came across your website”)

Even if they didn’t get recommended to you and you just like what they do, this is still a place to summarize your qualifications be it through an internship or undergraduate research and explain how this qualifies you/got you interested in this subdiscipline. For example:

During my internship at ____, I became familiar with [specific research tidbit]. The project that I worked with [describe your project]. This got me interested in continuing pursuing [topic] because [reason].

or you can say:

During my time at [University], I participated in undergraduate research that really introduced me to the subject of [research topic] and I wish to pursue this topic in my graduate studies.

The Finale!

So, you’ve gotten their attention, told them who you are and why you’re so awesome (read: qualified). Now is the time when you drive home how much professor’s research topics sound like something you’d be interested in doing and ask whether there are any open positions available. It should look a little something like:

After reading the description of your research on your group’s website, I believe that the work in your lab matches both my research experiences and interests. I would be interested in knowing if your group currently has any open positions for incoming graduate students.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.


Ta da! You’re finished! Now it’s time to anxiously await their response. However, don’t get discouraged if you never get a reply back. Not every professor answers emails sent by prospectives. It generally depends on the discipline and the individual’s schedule. Also, make sure that before you send your email you double check their research website and make sure that they haven’t already stated they are not accepting students or will not be responding to these emails. It’ll save you time an a lot of heartache this way. 🙂

Happy emailing!

PS: For other grad school related tips and tricks, check out other posts by clicking HERE!

❤ K


4 thoughts on “Applying to Grad School – Emailing Professors 101”

  1. This is great!! I’m just about to start emailing professors, but I’m so nervous about! I don’t know why, so for the moment I’m reading some of their work and trying to find a way to “sell myself” in the best way possible.


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