How to Write to Your Professor

by TBS Staff

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Emailing a professor can seem like a stressful task, but a few simple guidelines can help students feel confident to reach out for the help and advice they need.

If you're struggling with how to write to your professor, you're not alone. Whether you need to ask for an extension on a paper, reschedule an exam, or simply ask for help, writing to a professor can be intimidating.

In this guide, we walk through how to write to professors. We cover what to include in your letter, what to call your professor, and how formal you should be. For each example, we also provide a sample email to help you write a confident, clear message to your professor.

How Formal Should I Be?

When contacting a professor, use formal language and avoid anything that comes across as too casual. Your professor isn't your peer or your friend — they're an expert in their field.

First off, it's best to address your professor directly at the start of your email using a neutral greeting, like "To" or "Dear." Avoid casual greetings, like "Hi."

When writing, use clear language and full sentences. Check your message for typos or grammatical errors before you send it, and make sure to respect your professor's education and training in your correspondence. For example, don't explain things your professor already knows.

"When writing to your professor, start with a relatively high level of formality, and don't be too casual. It's much easier to relax than to correct."

What Do I Call My Professor?

Here's one of the most common questions when it comes to how to write to your professor: What do I call them? Some professors go by "Prof," while others use "Dr." What's the difference?

A professor is anyone teaching a postsecondary class, while a doctor holds a Ph.D. in their subject. If your professor doesn't have a Ph.D., you should not refer to them as "Dr." However, many professors do have Ph.D. degrees, so which title should you use?

Start by checking how your professor introduces themselves. If the syllabus calls them "Dr." then that's how you should address them, too. You can also search for your professor on your school's website. When in doubt, use "professor."

In general, avoid using your professor's first name or a vague title like "instructor," and never jump into your email with no salutation. Always include a formal address and greeting.

What Information Should I Provide?

First, before writing to your professor, review the syllabus carefully. The syllabus often includes specific information on office hours, make-up exams, and missed classes, and you don't want to waste your professor's time asking questions they've already answered.

When writing to your professor, make sure to introduce yourself, along with your section number and meeting time. Many professors teach more than one section of the same class, so you can't assume they know which one you attend.

Next, concisely explain your situation. Are you going to miss class? Do you need to reschedule an exam? Or are you asking the professor for help?

Once you've explained the issue, offer a few solutions, including what you can do to address the situation. The professor is more likely to help you if they don't have to come up with a solution for your problem on their own.

Finally, always thank your professor for their time and attention.

Your specific message depends on why you're writing to your professor. In the following sections, we'll cover some of the main reasons students write to professors and provide sample letters.

How To Write to Your Professor That You Need Help

Students sometimes struggle with understanding reading assignments, studying for exams, and writing papers. Perhaps you're having trouble finding material for a research project or identifying key topics that might be on the exam. If you need help, it's appropriate to reach out to your professor. Professors hold office hours specifically to help students with class-related issues.

When writing to a professor to ask for help, be as specific as possible about your struggle. Explain your question or issue and include a specific request, such as coming to office hours or meeting after class. If you need help with the reading or a particular assignment, make sure to bring it with you when you meet with your professor.

Sample Email to Professor When Asking for Help

Dear Dr. Moore,

My name is Brianna Green, and I'm in section 302-10 of your abnormal psychology class. I'm having trouble with the first paper assignment, which asks us to write a case study for a mental health disorder. I've reviewed the assignment and the reading, and I would like to write about generalized anxiety disorder, but I'm having trouble writing the case study, particularly the part on differential diagnosis.

Could I bring a draft of my paper to your office hours to talk about the assignment? I could also send you my draft and discuss the issues over email, but I'd prefer to come to office hours if that works for you.

Thanks for your help.


How To Write to Your Professor That You Are Sick

Professors want students to stay home when they're sick. If you're missing class or need an extension because of an illness, reach out to your professor as soon as possible. It's not necessary to provide a detailed description of your illness or any personal information. Instead, you can simply let your professor know that due to an illness, you will miss class.

Some professors require a doctor's note for excused absences. If you already have a note, feel free to provide it. If not, you can offer to submit a note.

Sample Email to Professor To Notify Them That You're Sick

Dear Professor Jackson,

My name is Kendrick Brown, and I'm in your 11:30 seminar on political theory. I was recently diagnosed with the flu, and I will miss class this week while I recover. I've attached a note from my doctor excusing me from class.

I'll make sure to stay on top of the reading, and I have a friend who can share notes from the seminar with me. I know participation makes up a large part of our grade. Could I write an extra essay on this week's topic to make up for missing class? Or could I come to office hours once I'm better to talk about the reading? I would also appreciate an extension on the paper due this week, if possible.

Thank you.


How To Write an Email to Your Professor About Missing Class

Students miss class for many reasons, including scheduled travel, work responsibilities, and family events. Most professors expect students to miss at least one class during the term. If you know about a conflict from the beginning of the semester, email your professor about it as soon as possible, and send a reminder email just before the week when you'll miss class.

In your email, provide a brief description of the reason you will miss class. However, if you're missing class for a personal reason, it's okay if you don't go into detail. For example, instead of saying you're skipping class for a concert, just say you'll be out of town that day.

Sample Email to Professor To Notify Them That You'll Miss Class

Dear Dr. Roberts,

My name is Veronica Grey, and I'm in your 9:30 Intro to Marketing class. I will miss class on June 1 because the marketing career session at the campus job fair takes place at the same time. Since I'm planning to pursue a career in marketing, I want to attend the session.

I will make sure to do the reading for that class and ask someone to take notes on the lecture. Could I come to office hours on June 2 to discuss anything else I missed and to make up the participation credit? Or is there any make-up work I can do to get credit for that class?

Thank you, and I'll see you in class.


How To Write an Email to Your Professor About Missing Class Due to Family Emergency

When a family emergency comes up, students typically cannot give their professors much notice. However, it's best to email your professor as soon as possible to let them know about any missed classes.

In most cases, learners can simply mention a family emergency without providing personal information. If a family member had a medical emergency, for example, you don't need to provide a full run-down of the situation.

While it might be tempting to use a "family emergency" as an excuse to miss class for other reasons, do not lie. Some professors require intrusive documentation like a death certificate or program from a funeral because they suspect students lie about family emergencies.

Sample Email to Professor To Notify Them That You'll Miss Class for a Family Emergency

Dear Dr. Trollinger,

My name is Cecil White, and I'm enrolled in your Economics 202 class that meets at 2:30 p.m. in Bennington Hall. I will miss class this week due to a family emergency. My father is in the hospital, so I'm going home to see him and help my family.

I have already done the reading for this week, and I also asked another student in class to take notes for the lectures I will miss. Is there anything I can do to make up the participation points for missing class? Also, I know you're handing out the final paper assignment this week — would you be able to email that to me?

Thank you for your understanding. I will let you know if I'll miss any other classes.


How To Write an Email to a Professor About Missing an Exam

Students miss exams for all kinds of reasons. Professors generally allow students to reschedule exams, but how should you ask about a make-up exam?

Reach out to your professor as promptly as possible to discuss the issue. Provide a concrete reason for missing the exam and suggest possible solutions.

If you already missed the exam, reach out to the professor right away to explain. Most professors allow make-up exams for illnesses, car troubles, and other emergencies. Check the syllabus for specific class policies on missing an exam.

Sample Email to Professor To Notify Them That You'll Miss an Exam

Dear Dr. Koenig,

My name is Erika Hatch, and I'm in section 101-3 of the World History class that meets at 10:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am unable to attend the exam scheduled for April 23 because I have a job interview that morning. Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to reschedule the interview.

I know the exam makes up 20% of our final grade, so I would like to schedule a make-up exam. Would it be possible to take the exam early? I'm also happy to work around your schedule to figure out a time for a make-up exam.

I can come by your office hours this week to talk about opportunities to schedule the make-up exam. Thank you.


Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Write "Dear Professor" to My Professor?

Yes, you can address a message with "Dear Professor," but many instructors prefer that you also include their last name.

What Do You Talk to Your Professor About at Office Hours?

Professors hold office hours to answer questions and help students with course material. You can ask your professor about lectures, readings, or assignments. During office hours, professors can also provide feedback on papers or tests. You should also consider going to office hours regularly if you plan to ask the professor for a letter of recommendation.

Do I Address My Ph.D. Professor As "Doctor" or "Professor"?

A professor with a Ph.D. may use the titles "Doctor" or "Professor." Generally, follow your professor's lead: Check the syllabus to see how they introduce themselves.

How Do You Refer to a Professor in an Email?

Address your professor as "Professor" or "Doctor" in an email. Instead of simply writing "Dear Professor," consider using their last name.

Header Image Credit: SDI Productions | Getty Images

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