As admissions consultants, we talk a lot about writing great statements of purpose, putting together an impressive curriculum vitae (CV), and approaching potential recommenders. However, we don’t always discuss what sort of contact applicants should try to make with potential advisors and professors at their desired schools. If you get one thing out of this article (and hopefully you’ll get more than that!), it is this: Reach out to professors with whom you’d like to work!
3 tips for reaching out
What do I mean by “reach out”? I mean three things:
- Send an email to professors
By “send an email,” I don’t mean a two-line email in which you simply send greetings to a professor and express the hope that they review your application favorably. Use this email as an introduction, your chance to begin your relationship with this professor. Here, I want to elaborate a little on what an email like this might look like; a surprising number of people have never learned email etiquette, and this is definitely a situation in which you want to put your best foot forward. A few tips:
• Address the professor as “Dear Professor X.” Not “Hi,” And definitely no first names.
• In the body of the email, it’s always nice to begin, “I hope this finds you well. My name is Y, and I am currently a student at Z University.” You might add another line or two about things you’ve been studying in your current program, or related work experience.
• Be straightforward: tell the professor you are applying to graduate school and are interested in his or her program. Explain why you are interested: usually, this means directly relating your interest to the professor’s interests. E.g., “One of the things that attracts me to your program is the emphasis on X. Your work, in particular, is focused on X. When I read your article ‘XYZ,’ I appreciated your analysis of Y. It caused me to think more about… (etcetera).”
• Express interest in having a phone call or other type of meeting with the professor (see #2 below). Sign your full name with your contact information below.
- Offer to meet with the professor
By “meet with a professor,” I mean some sort of contact that is more personal or face-to-face than an email exchange. When I applied to graduate school for an MA, I had email and phone exchanges with potential advisors. When I applied for my PhD, I had Facetime meetings with two potential advisors, and I flew from Chicago to Boston just to meet with other potential advisors in person. Any of these forms of deeper contact demonstrate your interest in fostering a relationship with a given professor, and can be used as a marvelous way to demonstrate your own maturity and intellectual abilities.
- Mention the professors with whom you have a relationship in your statement of purpose
Towards the end of your statement of purpose, discuss the particular program to which you’re applying and name one to three specific professors whose work you admire and with whom you’d like to work. Name a publication or two, and use this as an opportunity to make it clear that you have done your homework and know the main players in the field, their contributions to it, and your desire to be a part of their future work. WARNING: Be sure to tailor this section to each school you apply to; there’s no better way to insult a potential advisor than to state how you hope to work with a professor from a different university.
Making connections distinguishes you
With these steps outlined, you should be well on your way to building successful and personal relationships with professors and enhancing your chances of acceptance at a program that genuinely reflects your interests. Connecting one-on-one with professors who can guide you and your research can distinguish you as the applicant who has a genuine interest in that program. That communication is the unspoken rule of the admissions game!
For guidance on this and every other step of your graduate school application, check out our one-on-one Admissions Consulting Services.
With 30 years of career/admissions experience at four universities, including Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Business and College of Engineering, Dr. Karin Ash has met with thousands of recruiters seeking to hire the best students from leading schools. She has served as a member of the admissions committee, ensuring that the applicants who ultimately enroll are a good fit for the program and prime candidates for employers. Karin has been a Consultant with Accepted for 8 years and has facilitated students’ entry into top engineering, data science, MBA, and other STEM graduate MEng, MS, and PhD programs. Her clients have been accepted into MIT, the University of Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, UPenn, and USC. Want Karin to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- Get Your Game On: Prepping For Your Grad School ApplicationGet Your Game On: Prepping for Your Grad School Application, a free guide
- How to Write Your Master’s in Engineering Statement of Purpose
- How This Student Got Accepted to MIT’s Engineering Program and Landed a Job at Apple, podcast Episode 460