Graduate School: Why Potential Advisers Aren’t Responding to your Emails

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Applying for graduate school is very different than applying for undergrad. Often, you need to have support from 1-2 professors or potential advisors to support your application — even if you’re the most talented individual of the bunch, without a faculty member’s support you might not get accepted.

You may have already sent out your emails weeks ago and received no response. Or maybe you’re getting ready to send them out. There could be reasons on your end why you’re not getting a response, but there may be things outside of your control. Below, I offer some reasons as to why you’re not getting a response — whether it may be you, or it may be them!


It’s not me, it’s you.

It’s obvious your message isn’t customized for that professor

I would find it nearly impossible that every single tenure-track faculty member at a department (or multiple departments) fits your research interests. Professors are smart and may be able to tell if you’ve just copied and pasted a template message and just updated the name. Or worse, you addressed your message to the wrong person!

Your message isn’t readable

What do I mean by this? Your subject is unclear, the message is too long, filled with fluff, takes forever to get to the point, or a combination of all the above. Get a friend or someone you trust to read over your draft emails, especially if your first language isn’t the primary language of the university, try to get a friend who is fluent in that language to read over your emails.

Your interests don’t have anything to do with what the professor does now

Professors are like all of us. They change, they evolve, they branch out into different things. Just because she wrote her dissertation on one topic doesn’t mean that she’s active in that area now, 10 years later. Be sure you look at their recent publications and note any trends you see. Most professors will have an academic website or academic page on their department’s website with their CV (that is hopefully up to date). If they haven’t published in a while, see if you can track down a conference presentation or abstract. Additionally, their funded projects might have funding for graduate students, but the specific student hasn’t been identified yet. This is where you could fit in!

You send a ton of unnecessary information

On a date, would you give away all of your cards? I certainly hope not. Although you’re not soliciting your potential adviser for a romantic relationship (hopefully), treat this interaction similarly. You’re likely starting a relationship from scratch here. Start your first email simply with a short paragraph of introduction describing who you are and your academic status, a second paragraph about how your research interests relate to their research and a closing paragraph. In my opinion, I think attaching your CV at this point is a bit preemptive. If you’re a good fit, they’ll reach out and ask for more information.

You didn’t send a follow-up email

Professors can get hundreds of emails every single day, some that might look exactly like yours. Your message could have gotten lost in a ton of other similar messages. If you don’t hear back in 2 weeks, send a follow-up email.



It’s not you, it’s me.

They don’t have the money or time

Some professors are maxed out with their current students and don’t have the time or budget to take on more students.

They are retiring

They may also be retiring soon and cannot stay 4+ years to see you through to graduation.

They’re on or going on sabbatical

They simply won’t be at the university when you start for that critical first year, and don’t feel comfortable or cannot take on new students the year you wish to start.

They’re out for the summer but don’t have a vacation responder

This happens. Many tenure-track appoint are on 9 months academic appointments meaning that professors have to find funding for the rest of the 3 month calendar year. Often this may a lot of travel to remote locations where there is no to minimal cellular reception or internet access. And if they are able to connect, they’re probably prioritizing personal messages and those from their students and colleagues.

They’re leaving the university

The professor might be leaving the university and can’t take you on as a student.

They’re not allowed to take on graduate students

Many universities have tenure-track faculty and professional-track faculty. Tenured track faculty has titles like Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. The professional-track faculty has titles like Research Assistant Professor and Research Associate Professor. Tenured track faculty often have requirements that they have to take on a certain number of students as requirements to obtain and keep their tenure. The same requirements often do not apply to professional-track faculty, meaning that they are usually not required or even allowed to take on graduate students on their own.

Be sure you've read my blog terms and privacy policy.

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