How Do I Professionally Contact a Professor?

So, you need to contact your professor. It is okay to be a little nervous. No matter what the reason for contacting them, this guide will provide a few tips for success.

Before we begin, ensure you have read the class syllabus! Many questions can be answered by reading the syllabus closely.

For additional tips, check out this page by the Office of Graduate Student Life.

Tip One: In person > Email

It is much easier to discuss problems, ask questions, or simply hold a conversation in person than it is in email. It is likely that the discussion will be more productive if it done in person. Luckily, professors should hold regular office hours or be willing to meet with students outside of class.

Office hours can usually be found in your class syllabus. If you do not see them listed check Blackboard or email the professor asking to meet.

Have a plan of action before your meeting. What do you hope to gain from talking with them? Be respectful and cognizant of their time (and other students’). If the conversation is drawing on too long, and there are other students waiting, consider requesting a follow up meeting.

Tip Two: Whether online or off, be clear with your request

If you are requesting a grade change or an extension on an assignment, be clear in your request. This is especially important in email chains, as unclear wording or requests will prolong the conversation.

Good: May I please have until May 4 to finish the final project?

Bad: Can I have some more time to finish the project? (Which project? How long?)

Tip Three: Email Etiquette

Email etiquette is an important skill to learn. A well written email will get you much further than a poorly worded email. If you are not comfortable with your written skills, ask a friend or a trusted individual to read over your email before you hit ‘send’.

Below is an example of an appropriate email requesting a deadline extension.

Professor Lastname, 

I hope all is well. My name is Firstname Lastname and I am a student in your GOVT-101 004 course. I am writing to request an extension on Assignment Four. If possible, may I please turn it in a day late on Sunday, March 4? 

[If you feel it is appropriate, write the reasoning here.] 

I understand this is not ideal. I appreciate any leeway you are able to provide me this one time. Thank you and I look forward to class on Monday. 

Thank you, 

Firstname Lastname
  • Use your or email address.
  • Provide a clear subject line such as “[GOVT 101 004] Request for an Extension”.
  • Address the professor by their preferred title and last name.
  • State who you are and which course you are in (include course number).
  • Be clear in your request.
  • A reasoning may not always be appropriate, but be prepared to provide one if requested.
  • Recognize that the situation is not ideal and that it will not be a repeated occurrence.
  • Include a signature.

Tip Four: What if it doesn’t go the way I hoped?

Sometimes things will not go your way. Whether the professor was dismissive, rude, denied your request, or the conversation simply didn’t pan out as you hoped – it’s okay.

Hold your head high and continue to be respectful. If you feel there is an egregious issue that must be resolved, consider contacting the department chair. However, for most situations, you’ll simply have to take the loss with grace.