One thing they forget to teach us in high school is how to email a professor in college. In fact, most high schools never teach their students how to write emails or use proper email etiquette. This can make college an even more stressful and confusing time because sending an email is often the best form of communication with professors.
In this guide, you will learn exactly how to email professors and hone in on your professional email skills. We have even included an example email for you.
Reasons for Emailing
There are various reasons you may need to email a professor. Whether it be regarding the class itself, asking about assignment due dates, or a class period you may have to miss, emailing your professor is the best and most preferred way of communicating these needs, especially when questions arise outside of your professor’s regular office hours.
Questions About Class
Every class has a different structure, and if you come up with any questions regarding the class structure, syllabus, or grading scale, you’ll want to email your professor. This is especially true for students enrolled in online degree programs as there is not really another time you can ask your professor these questions.
Asking for Assignment Extensions
Many professors have strict policies about assignment extensions and late grades, but they are often understanding when life interrupts and you aren’t able to complete an assignment by the deadline. Emailing your professor ahead of time to explain the situation and ask for an extension on an assignment can benefit both you and your grade.
Informing of an Upcoming Absence
For those attending on-campus classes in which attendance is mandatory, emailing your professor to inform them of your absence in a class is often required. This helps your professor keep track of how many classes you have missed, and it gives you credibility and oftentimes, some assistance catching up from your professor.
Regardless of the reason for your email, you will follow the same email structure. This helps to keep all emails streamlined, easy to read, and straight to the point. Most professors have requirements to be found in the syllabus about the information you must include in your email to them. The syllabus is also where you will find your professor’s email address, so be sure to actually read through it. After writing your email, be sure to double check it for any spelling or grammatical issues.
In the subject line of your email, you will need to include the reason you are emailing. This is meant to be a brief description of the issue, as you will go more in-depth in the body of your email. For example, if you are emailing to explain to your professor that you will have to miss a class period for a relative’s wedding, simply write “Upcoming Absence” in the subject line. Some professors like for you to include your course section number in the subject line as well, so be sure to check the syllabus for this information.
Unless you know that your professor prefers to be addressed less formally, it is best to stick with a formal salutation. Instead of writing “Hey, Tim,” or “Sup, Mr. Jones,” aim for something more professional such as “Good afternoon, Professor Jones,” or “Dear Professor Jones,” to start your email. Addressing your professor as “professor” demonstrates both respect for them and your competency as their student. Doing this will also prevent your email from finding its way into their spam folder—professors receive a number of emails that start poorly and send them straight to the spam folder.
Most professors teach multiple classes filled with dozens of students, so keeping track of all of their students is difficult. Be sure to introduce yourself by stating your name and what class of theirs you are enrolled in. This helps them determine the exact context of your email. Don’t include a lot of personal information—it is best to remain on the side of caution when writing professional emails and avoid giving out unnecessary personal details.
Body of Email
In the body of your email, you will need to describe your reason for emailing more in-depth. For instance, if you are asking for an extension on an assignment, explain which assignment you are struggling to complete by the deadline and why. Do not feel as if you have to give out a bunch of personal details in this explanation, but do give your professors enough to fully understand the situation.
Your email signature is how you will conclude your email. This is largely determined based upon your personal preferences, but it is common for students to include a farewell of some sort, their name, their major, and often their preferred pronouns. Of course, you can personalize this to include whatever you want, but it is best to keep it short and simple.
To best demonstrate how to put all of the pieces of an email together, the following is an example email written to ask a professor a question about a class:
Subject Line: Question About Course ENGL1050
Good evening, Professor Jones,
My name is Jane Doe and I am a student in your online ENGL1050 course. After reading through the syllabus, I felt a bit confused regarding your grading policy. In the section about late grades, it is stated that late assignments will not be accepted unless there are “legitimate reasons hindering the submission of assignments discussed with the professor prior to the due date.” In case this situation arises for me while enrolled in this course, what reasons do you consider legitimate for submitting an assignment late? How would you prefer I go about notifying you of circumstances preventing me from completing assignments on time?
Thank you in advance,
Computer Science Major