Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

You’ve got questions about the assignment.
You need an override into their class.
You’re wondering if you can get honors credit for their class.
You’re wondering what they think of your paper idea.
You’re hoping they can come to your civil-war-themed costume party on Saturday night.

No matter what it is, one of the biggest skills you’ll need to develop in college is flawlessly emailing a professor. It’s great practice for emailing people out in the professional world, and it’s way easier than you think.

Once you have the formula down, you can conquer the world!

1. Always check the syllabus first.

Besides from actually listing the professor’s email address, the syllabus contains valuable information—most of which might answer the question you’re about to send to their overpopulated inbox.

Many professors have a “do not email me about things you can find in the syllabus” rule. Follow it. If you don’t, and you email them anyway, here’s the email you’re actually sending:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.28.56 AM

2. Make sure you follow their format rules.

Some professors are super cool about emails. Subject line, no subject line, cat GIFs, whatever.

Some don’t respond to email unless it’s sent from your school-issued email, with a subject line that looks like “CLASS PREFIX – SECTION TIME – HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT NUMBER.”

If they have specifications, they’re usually in the syllabus.

Check and see, because you wouldn’t want your email about the “incomplete” grade on your absolutely-completed, submitted-three-days-ago, semester’s-worth-of-weekly-reports to end up in the digital trash.

3. Keep it brief.

This applies to professors and professionals alike.

You, as a student, are busy. You’ve got all your classes, plus maybe a part-time job, plus clubs, and so on.

Your professor likely has somewhere from 50-300 students, with all their assignments, tests, papers, presentations…and emails.

Don’t over-explain things. Don’t make excuses. Say what you need to say, and then cut it down to 1-2 sentences.

4. Keep it simple.

An email to your philosophy teacher is not the time to try and prove your intelligence. You should be doing that during class and with your assignments.

Cut the flowery language and the Walden references, and just say what’s so.

Here’s a Basic Template

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.37.32 AM

A. Your subject line should be short and sum up what you’re asking about in a couple words.

It’s okay to just put “assignment” or “question,” but the more specific you can be, the better it is.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.39.32 AM

B. Unless they’ve given you express permission to call them by their first name, it’s always better to send a first email to “Professor So-and-so.”

Also, you get to avoid any misused Mrs./Ms. awkwardness. Professor is clean, professional, respectful, gender-neutral.


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.40.00 AM

C. Tell Them Who You Are

Especially if it’s a big lecture class, where you’re just a face in the crowd. Professors probably don’t know who you are, and it’s not personal.

Unless you’re at this professor’s office hours on the reg, to the point where they stop you at the campus coffee shop, greet you with your first name, and ask you about your cat’s fleece allergy—remind them who you are.


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.40.58 AM

D. This is the sentence that sums up what you’re asking about.

This is also where you keep calm and fling zero accusations. No “You lost my essay on Wednesday.” No “You gave me a zero even though I turned in my essay on time, what gives??”

Just state the facts. Nobody is to blame here. If anyone is to blame, it might be you.


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.41.34 AM

E. Don’t ask, “How can I fix this?” Instead, offer a solution.

This gives your professor the space to offer a counter-solution, but you’ve already met them halfway with your own ideas of how to resolve the situation.

A flat-out “How can I fix this?” or “What should I do?” just says, “Can you take more time out of your day to solve this thing for me?”


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.42.05 AM

F. Just a good sentence to include.

It’s a polite tagline that covers every base from “Is my email wildly off-base and the thing I’m asking for impossible?” to “Do you not actually have time to meet on Wednesday?”

Also, it communicates, “I care about this and I want you to follow up so I can fix this.”


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.42.37 AM

G. You mustmustmust thank your professor for taking the time to read your email and ostensibly help you out.

Do not take their time for granted. Do not act like they owe you this. PLUS, a simple “thank you” makes you look like the kindhearted, gracious person I know you are!


Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.43.05 AM

H. A short, cheery signoff.

You’ll probably find that yours evolves throughout college. I was once a “sincerely” gal. Then moved on to “all the best.” Now it’s either “best,” or “thanks and best.” Other options: “Cheers,” “Best wishes,” “Yours till the cookie crumbles.”

Emailing a professor can seem intimidating, but once you know the formula, you’ll be emailing everyone with confidence and ease.

Are there any tips I missed? What are some of your biggest email mistakes? Let me know in the comments!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

the author

Dressler Parsons is a senior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. Besides writing for The Prospect, she also blogs educationally at Student-Tutor, and culinarily at Dressler Makes Things. In her free time, she loves kicking back with some leftover Mediterranean takeout and listening to podcasts like Song Exploder, The Allusionist, or This American Life.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply