...have a question about class.
...think your paper is going to be late.
...found an article you want to share.
...want to start building a professional relationship with your professor.
As a college student, sending an email to your professor can be stressful if you’re not sure what to say or how to phrase your request, but we’ve got you covered!
In this article, we share:
What you need to know about writing an email to your professor
A 5-step template for composing your email
4 sample emails that you can adjust for your needs
What You Need to Know About Writing an Email to Your Professor
Before you start writing...
Can you find the answer to your question elsewhere?
Check out the syllabus, ask Google, see if you can get more info from other students in class, and talk to your teaching assistant at section before reaching out.
Is email the best way to communicate about this subject?
Can you check-in with your professor after class or during office hours? If so, usually you can get more info on the spot. For topics that are sensitive in nature (e.g., grades or a late paper), mention the topic you’d like to discuss in your email (or when you check-in after class) and ask for a time that you could talk in person. When you show up, you open the door to two-way communication and you can get into the details of your situation. If you only send an email, it’s a lot easier for someone to reject a request.
Writing the email...
Make sure your email is concise!
Emails are meant to be short-form communication. Your email should be one paragraph or less. Anything larger, chances are the subject is better suited for an in-person convo (we have a sample email for this scenario below).
Check the tone of your message.
Is it respectful? Is there a line that could be interpreted the wrong way? You’re asking for your professor’s time, so your email should reflect a tone of gratitude.
Is “urgent” really urgent?
Reserve the term “urgent” for “urgent” situations (i.e., you broke your foot four hours before the exam and you’re stuck at the hospital).
Err on the side of formality!
Don’t use emoticons, slang, or abbreviations. Always address your professor as “Professor [Last Name]” and start your emails with “Dear Professor [Last Name]”
Double-check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Most email services have built-in spell check, but if yours doesn’t, you can spell check for free in a new browser window with the Hemingway Editor.
Use professional fonts.
Arial, Helvetica, and Times New Roman in black 12-point font are go-tos. Above all, your message should be easily readable.
5 Steps to Writing an Email to Your Professor
Email subject line
- Include your class and section # (if applicable)
- Include the subject of your message
Sample subject lines:
- POL101 / Section 5: Question about essay
- Senior thesis on African-American History
- Start emails to professors with “Dear Professor [last name]:” (Your professor may or may not have a Ph.D., so use “Dr. [last name]” only if you know that’s what they prefer.)
- Never start the email off with “Hey” or address your professor by their first name (unless your professor has explicitly invited your class to be on a first-name basis).
- Dear Professor Fiji:
- Dear Professor Williams:
- Dear Dr. Jones:
- Mention how they know you or how you know them. This line is especially important for large introductory-level courses or if you’re emailing a professor you haven’t met personally.
Sample background info:
- I am a student in your Introduction to Political Science class (POL101).
- Professor Fiji suggested I reach out to you because the topic of my senior thesis is African-American history.
Purpose of your message
- What’s the reason for your email? Get to the point and make the ask, share the info, or give the update.
- If the purpose of your email is to make a request, note that larger requests should be preceded by a conversation with your professor (e.g., you’d like them to write you a letter of recommendation or you’d like them to be your thesis advisor). If you haven’t had that conversation yet, the purpose of your email should be about finding a time to talk.
- I have a question about the essay due next Thursday and I was not able to find the answer on the syllabus. Should our essay draw only on readings listed on the syllabus or can I incorporate scholarly articles I read on my own, as long as it fits with the subject of the assignment?
- I know you have done extensive research in this area, and I think meeting with you before I start my thesis would help me get started in the right direction. Would you be available for a short meeting next week?
- Start your sign-off with “I look forward to hearing from you” or “I look forward to your reply.”
- Follow that up with “Best regards.” A Propeller Collective favorite, “Best regards” has just the right amount of formality. “Sincerely” is a good option for more formal situations, while “Best” or “Regards” is slightly less formal than “Best regards.”
- A popular sign-off that we do not recommend: Don’t sign off with “Thanks” or “Thank you!” Premature gratitude can make it seem like you’re making a demand and that you’re not actually grateful. Save “Thank you” for times when you want to express gratitude for something someone has already done.
- Sign off with your full name, followed by your major and grad year.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Political Science, Class of 20xx
I look forward to your reply.
History, Class of 20xx
After you hit send…
Don’t be afraid to follow up!
Professors typically receive 100+ emails each day. If you don’t hear back from your professor, it’s a good idea to follow up. How long should you wait before following up?
If you sent an email to your professor about a class-related issue, send a follow-up email in 2 business days (for example, if you sent an email Monday morning, follow up Wednesday morning). If you see them in class before 2 business days, it might be appropriate to stop by the podium after class and mention that you sent them an email.
If you sent an email to your professor that’s not about a class-related issue, or it was addressed to a professor you don’t know personally, send a follow-up email in 3-4 business days.
Note: follow-up emails should be sent from the original email thread.
See our sample follow-up email below!
After your professor writes back...
Say “Thank You” and confirm that you received their email
Even if no follow up is required, a short “Thank you. I appreciate your reply” or “Thank you for your help” can go a long way.
4 Sample Emails
Sample Email #1: Question about essay
Sample Email #2: Senior thesis request
Sample Email #3: Request an in-person meeting
Sample Email #4: Follow-up email
CEO, Propeller Collective