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Emailing Your Professor: Tips and Tricks from the Health Advocates

Life in the time of COVID and online classes is HARD. If you are feeling overwhelmed or have fallen behind in class, it’s okay! It is likely that your professors are aware and have heard similar things from other students. You are not alone in the struggle. Reaching out to your professors may be the next step in getting back to feeling better. We’ve compiled some tips and strategies to help you start the conversation. 

Before you reach out…

Know where you stand

Before you contact your professor, it’s helpful to know what you have missed and where you stand in the class. Take a look at Canvas and see which assignments are overdue and which ones you may need extensions for. Don’t make the professor figure it out for you. 

Tip: This step may be difficult if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Try to do this without judgment. Your position in the class is what it is. Knowing exactly where you stand may actually lower your anxiety. 

 

Read the Syllabus

Professors get countless questions each semester that could be answered with a quick skim of the syllabus. Show your professor that you’ve been paying attention. A professor will be more willing to listen if they know that you are listening to them. Knowing the class policy can also inform how you phrase your request and ensure that you don’t get “read the syllabus” as a response. 

 

Now it’s time to write the Email.

1. Introduce yourself and your purpose

First impressions are important. Set a tone of kindness and respect by including well wishes and addressing your professor with their formal title (If they have a PhD, use “Dr.”). Include your full name, class, and section number. 

“Professor X, 

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Jane Doe and I am in section #3 of your ENGL1001 class. I am emailing about the final project due this Friday.” 

Tip: Even if your relationship with your professor is more casual, keep your e-mail formal. You can skip the class section information if you think it’s not necessary, but keep the tone respectful. Being too casual can backfire no matter how close you are with a professor.

2. Provide some context and take responsibility 

You don’t need to provide your whole life story here, but it can be helpful to give a little context. Don’t make excuses and keep it simple. 

  • “I’ve been swamped with work from other classes and have not been able to give this assignment the attention it deserves”
  • “This semester has been difficult and I know that I have fallen behind on many of the assignments for your class.”

Tip: This deserves to be said again: keep it simple. If you’d like to explain yourself further, request a meeting and save it for a conversation in real-time.

3. The request: know what you are asking for and be specific! 

Think back to the very first step, “know where you stand.” This conversation will be easier if you can identify what you need. Need an extension? Missed assignments? Think about your capacity to do work right now and realistically how long it will take you to make up the work that you have missed or need to do.

  • “Would it be possible to have an extension through the weekend, and turn this assignment in on Monday instead of Friday?”
  • “Is it possible for me to receive credit for the assignments that I have missed? I will be able to complete them within the next couple of weeks.”
  • “May I schedule a meeting with you to discuss my options for improving my grade in this class?”

Tip:  If you aren’t sure what you need or don’t know where to start, ask for a meeting to discuss your options.

4. Be flexible 

Give your professor an opportunity to offer alternative options and be prepared to schedule a follow up meeting if necessary. 

  • “If this is not possible, I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for me in improving my grade for this class.”
  • “Please let me know if you would prefer to schedule a meeting to discuss this further.”

If you’re still having trouble, we’ve included some templates below to get you started. Be sure to edit them to reflect your information, needs, and style. 

 

Examples: 

Dear Professor ________,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [your name] and I am in section X of your [class name] class. I am emailing about the essay due this Friday. While I am aware of your late assignment policy for this class, I’ve been swamped with work from other classes and have not been able to give this assignment the attention it deserves. Would it be possible to have an extension through the weekend, and turn it in on Monday instead of Friday? Please let me know if you would like me to meet with you during your office hours to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

[Your name] 

 

Professor ________,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [your name] and I am in section X of your class. This semester has been difficult and I know that I have fallen behind on many of the assignments for your class. Is it possible for me to receive credit for the assignments that I have missed? I will be able to complete them within the next couple of weeks. If this is not possible, I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for me in improving my grade for this class. Please let me know if you would like to schedule a meeting during your office hours to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

[Your name] 

 

What if my professor does not respond?

Communication during COVID is challenging and we can’t just show up at office hours like we used to. Send a respectful follow up email after a couple of days (two business days is typical). 

  • “Hi Professor X, 

I hope you had a restful weekend. I am following up about my previous email; have you had a chance to read it? I would be happy to schedule a meeting with you if that is preferable. 

Best,

[Your name]”

 

If that doesn’t work...

Send another email to your professor and CC your department chair or associate dean.

“Hi Professor X, 

I hope this email finds you well. I have tried to reach out to you a couple of times over the past week (include dates) about an assignment extension. Can you let me know when a good time would be for us to chat? I’ve CC’ed Dean X for assistance in getting in touch with you. 

 

Sincerely, 

[Your Name]”

 

Tip: Assume good intentions and always keep your outreach respectful. Going off on a professor will never improve the situation. 

 

Final Tips!

  • It is natural to avoid things that make us uncomfortable or anxious. If you are really nervous about contacting your professor, start by drafting the email and saving it. When you have a moment of courage, send it in one easy click. Then engage in some self-care. 
  • Practice acceptance and flexibility. We cannot control the outcome of a situation but we can control how we respond. Manage your expectations and consider what is good enough for this semester.