How to Email Professors in College

Email etiquette is always important, but paying extra attention to the emails you send to your professors might pay off in the long run. 

Richie Frieman
5-minute read
Episode #352
The Quick And Dirty

1. Remain professional in your writing and proofread before you send. 

2. Consider the time of day you send the email. Will your professor have time to answer (or even be awake)? 

3. Check who you're emailing—don't hit "reply all"! 

They say college is the best time of your life, and unless you got kicked out, the saying is most likely true. Well, unless reason you were “shown the door” was because you loved it a bit too much. Either way, even though college is a blast, you still have to work your tail off, and show your professors that you mean business. After all, a recommendation from a professor could lead to a future job.

With that, one way to remain on the good side of a college professor is to use proper email etiquette when corresponding with them. Be it the way you present yourself, your tone, or your timing, properly understanding how to email your professors is essential. So, before you press SEND, check out my top three quick and dirty tips on how to email college professors. 

Tip #1: Remain professional

When I was in college, I had some pretty wild professors. In fact, one art teacher was so “out there,” you would even find him at the bar shooting pool (which I did) then in a stuffy teachers lounge. However, even though he had a very laid back approach towards the “formalities” of higher education, at the end of the day, he was there to teach. Yes, he would bet you a beer on a game of darts, but if you didn’t show up with your assignment, on time, he wouldn’t be so friendly. I admired him for that and respected his professionalism. As well, it taught me one rule; professors are NOT your friend. Friend-ly, yes—but “besties”? Eh, not so much. With that, when you email your professor, it’s always proper to keep everything professional and remember that what you type is being reviewed intently.

So when you email your professors, remember that they don’t want to know about your social life like your college friends.

Now, if you think I’m being harsh by saying that all professors can’t joke around with the students, you’re missing the point. You can be cordial, and not come off like an amateur. I mean, this is not the military and you’re not in boot camp. But always remember, there is a thick divide between professional and friend. So when you email your professors, remember that they don’t want to know about your social life like your college friends. With that, don’t mention that you are “so beat” from the night before, that you had a hard time studying. Remember to spell check and speak properly since your email voice is still your voice. Also, do not use casual greetings like “Bro,” “Sup,” or “Peeps.” I know some of you may say, “Come on, we all know that!” but even if you are a super polished student, the frequency in email makes some people drop their manners over time. We’re all guilty of it: as interactions go on, you get more familiar, you get funnier, your messages shorten in length and you can sometimes slip up. But in this case, slipping up could leave a lasting and improper impression.

SEE ALSO: Grammar Girl's 7 Ways to Write Better Email Messages

Tip #2: Timing is key

As an entrepreneur, I’ve had over a dozen brilliant and creative interns in the past few years, who helped grow my businesses. All but one was what I would call “productive.” This one intern, person A (we’ll call them), would always email me at interesting times. Sometimes it 3 am, sometimes 4 am, sometimes he would tell me he was in his car, i.e. driving and emailing (I had to rectify that one). Now, being a night owl, I can handle the oddly early times, and understanding that college kids pull all nighters with their heavy workloads, I respected his hustle … but I’m not a professor who gave his assignments due a few hours from when he emailed me.

For example, if you email your professor the morning of an assignment being due, do you think they will really believe you are well prepared? And even if they don't mind you being a late-night worker, it does say something about your work ethic and time management. I may be a little picky here but you have to look at the perception of your work and your time, when your professor analyzes you as an overall student. If you email your professor at 1 or 2 am, do you think they will reply back to you any time soon? NO! They—like most every other adult—are sleeping. So, why would you bother? The last thing a professor wants to do is wake up to an plethora of emails from the middle of night asking about work that should have been addressed days before, at a reasonable time no less.

Will the late night emails happen? Yes, and it’s okay once or twice … but I recommend sticking to a proper time like morning, mid-day, or early evening when you know an answer is possible.

RELATED: Modern Mentor's How to Write Emails From Your Readers' Point of View

Tip #3: Don’t hit REPLY ALL

Email has completely changed the way we communicate. It also created a ton of room for faux pas, so of course I can’t talk about email etiquette without discussing the biggest email snafu of all time: hitting REPLY ALL. We’ve all witnessed a REPLY ALL disaster and some (unfortunately) have been the sender of a REPLY ALL email, too. So, needless to say, we know the feeling of the embarrassment in one way or another. And when you can think back to how bad you felt (personally or for someone else) during a REPLY ALL situation, just imagine how detrimental it can be for a student who includes a professor in a REPLY ALL email. Kind of like calling the CEO a butthead on a mass email to the staff … that kind of bad.

When you email your professor, always make sure you see where it’s going and to who else is on the email chain. The main reason for this is that your interaction—email or in person—with your professor should be private. If you include all 100 other students in your email about something only you are working on, and bring your life into theirs, it can come off as distracting. It’s like the expression, “too many chefs in the kitchen”—same thing goes for REPLY ALL to a community of people that do not necessarily have to be involved.

If the professor sends a mass email out, which they most likely will do, take a breather, always proofread (as I said in Tip #1) and keep it a one-on-one situation.  

Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT.

Check out the QDT Team's Graduate Guide to Adulting for post-college tips. 

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

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