Monday, 21 January 2019

How to Write a First Email to a Professor for Graduate School

Email a Professor

Finding the right graduate school program to apply to can be almost likened to trying to find a needle in a haystack. There are thousands of Universities out there and we cannot possibly apply to all of them so we have to shortlist Universities to apply to based on different factors--one of which is the availability of a potential supervisor for our chosen research area. Emailing potential supervisors is a very important step in graduate school application whether you are applying to a Master's or a Ph.D. program. No matter how strong you are as a graduate school applicant, you may not be admitted if there is no one in the department willing to supervise you. So how can you send an introductory email to a professor who you see as a potential supervisor and get his/her attention?


First of all, there is no one right way to do this. There are also so many wrong ways it can be done that would not only lead the professors to ignore your emails but could also get some of them so riled up that they could blacklist you.

How NOT to Write a First Email to a Professor for Graduate School

Dear Professor. 
My name is Solomon Ubani, I have a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Benin, Nigeria. I am very passionate about Artificial Intelligence, Travelling to space and finding a cure to Cancer. I will like an opportunity to work with you.
CC: Email address of every professor whose email address you can lay your hands on

This kind of generic emails will mostly get ignored, a canned reply or even get you blacklisted by the professor because such emails show you to be very lazy and unserious. The professors would be able to tell that you probably sent the same email to a thousand other professors and would not waste their time on you. They are very busy people. Do not spam them.

How to Write a First Email to a Professor for Graduate School

Subject: Fall 202X Prospective Student - Lab Information Inquiry 
Dear Professor John Doe, 
My name is Solomon Ubani, I have a Bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Benin, Nigeria. I am applying to Stanford University for Fall 2019 for a Masters in Computer Science. 
I have been exploring graduate programs where I can research effective technological solutions to XYZ and would like to know about research opportunities to work with you.  I have worked on a similar project at school involving ABC. I have perused the projects and publications on the  UVW's Lab website and I believe it would be a very good fit for me because it's dedication to making advances in XYZ.  My specific project will likely be in researching EFG.

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 willing to talk to me a bit more, by email or on the phone? 
Attached is my CV, Transcript, GRE scores and two of my research papers.
I know you’re very busy and I would really appreciate any time you can give me.  Thank you very much. 
Regards. 
Note: When sending attachments, combine them all as a single PDF file. Do not attach multiple files and send to them. You can use an online web tool like Combine PDF to achieve this.

Now doesn't this look much better?  This email shows you have a thorough understanding of the kind of research the professor is currently doing and you have done a lot of research yourself. You should absolutely know what kind of research the professor is currently working on by reading their recent research papers and be sure the work they currently do interests you before you email them. In your email try to be as concise and straight to the point as possible. Do not tell them how it has been your dream to be a scientist since you were a kid or how you were an A+ student in school. Such information is not necessary.

No matter how well written your email, some professors would still not reply you for many different reasons.

  • They do not have an opening or funding for a new student.
  • They do not think you would be a good fit for them 
  • They like you and want to work with you but would not reply you during the application season.
  • They simply forgot to reply
  • They might not have seen your mail

In the last two cases, you might want to send the professors a follow-up email after about a week or two.

Related Posts

How to Write a follow-up Email to a Professor for Graduate School

How To Know if a Department has Full Scholarship or Graduate Assistantship for Master's Students

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My name is Solomon Ubani, I'm a computer scientist. I have few years of programming experience. I am happy to learn from you.