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I've seen some universities encouraging students to contact with the faculty before making applications. For example, this one. On the other hand I've heard some people saying that they are waste of times because professors receive several such e-mails every year and they don't even have time to look at them.

So, is it good idea to make contanct professors before making the application? Can it increase my chances of acceptance? Can it ever backfire me?

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This really only works as a strategy if you have something truly meaningful to say. If you have to force yourself to do it and struggle to come up with something to say in your email, you're not helping yourself. Faculty get tons of email all the time and every year - as you say - get emails from prospective students, many of whom will not be admitted and in whom they invest no effort. So, if you genuinely think you're a good fit for a program/lab and have solid questions in mind to ask the faculty/PI of that lab that will communicate your quality and fit, this may be viable. But, I would definitely not recommend it as a general strategy.

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    By put some effort into it, this usually means that you have at a minimum read their website and in most cases have read one of their more recent papers and thought about 'why' you find the work interesting and how it relates to your interests and/or what you have done in the past. Your first email should be short (1-2 paragraphs max ... if a conversation ensues great ... but a professor is more likely to read a shorter email ... "think more; write less" is my motto). – WetlabStudent Jun 13 '14 at 4:27
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From the link you provided,

To increase your chances of admission to our program, you are strongly encouraged to discuss your research interests with one or more faculty from our department prior to your application.

It sounds an invitation for you to contact the faculty members. In cases like this, I would recommend you to contact them. Find the faculty memebers whose research interests are close to yours and write e-mails to tell them that you are interested in what they are doing. I believe those e-mails won't hurt your chance to get admitted because they ask you to do so in the first place. How much it will help you remains to be seen. As the web page says, it increases your chances of admission.

However, if you do not see such invitation on their web pages then I agree with Thomas that don't contact them unless you do have truly meaningful things to say.

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    I would add regarding "interest in what they are doing" that an applicant makes sure it's actually what the faculty member is doing now as opposed to what you may have seen/read from them, which might not be their current interests/work. – Thomas Jul 28 '13 at 8:58
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    @Thomas I agree. Actually, this would be a good reason to write to them to confirm their current interest/work. – scaaahu Jul 28 '13 at 9:27
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Australian context: If by graduate school, you are referring to doing a PhD, then in Australia the standard first step is to find an academic willing to supervise you. The university will typically have additional requirements, such as regarding grades and prior academic experience. In particular, if you want a scholarship for your PhD, grades will be very important. Even if your grades a little lower, there is sometimes the option to commence a masters by research and convert to a PhD thesis at a later stage. Furthermore, if an academic is keen to supervise your project, then they are likely to do what they can to facilitate your application. So in summary, contacting academics to enquire about PhD supervision is essential.

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Yes, it is a good idea. And, yes, it can backfire. I regularly receive inquiries from individuals interested in "joining my lab," laying fairly bold claims to be moved by my research. They can be both annoying and humorous because I am very active in research but my area of study does not have any type of "lab model." In most cases, these types of inquiries are generic messages that are essentially copied to a very large number of professors, with hopes of getting a reply. It is very easy to see through this snowball approach, and the outcome is invariably a deleted message. The most qualified individuals do their homework and tailor the messages to demonstrate knowledge and genuine interest in the topic area.

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If there is a particular professor in mind, it may be a good idea to contact him. After I retired, I received a few such inquiries, and wrote back telling them I was retired an no longer taking students. This is another reason (different from "improve your chances").

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Canadian context: I applied for four Master degrees in three different universities (Concordia, UdeM, UQAM) in Montreal.

I've contacted beforehand teachers or head of departments. I was welcomed by everybody I talked to.

Three out of four applications were succesful. I even found two people offering to be my thesis co-director months before the start of the first term. In this latter case I met three different professors before my official application was processed. The head of department encouraged me to do so.

The only university I did not contact beforehand –I was an undergraduate at this one– refused my application. (I did not bother talking about my application, because the people processing it knew me already, apparently they felt neglected that I did not try to suck up to them during the last term.)

So, from my experience I would advise to do so, but, and it's a big big but, I had very good reasons to contact them. I had a three page proposal for the subject of an eventual thesis.

I was asking them for advice, I wanted to know if my proposal was something I could do at their university or not. I wasn't wasting their time or trying to look good, I was talking only about what we could do together,about their expertise, asking to use their brain for something they were familiar with. Basically, asking to do the job they are paid for.

On the other hand, I advised my wife to do the same two year ago, when she wasn't sure of her academic orientation. She did it with 3 different programs at two universities, contacting professors or department officials.

She was constantly brushed off or refered back to their website.

They felt she was wasting their time, because she had only hard "technical" questions (fees, hours, amenities, agenda...)that could be answered perusing through documentation or questions so "soft" (what's the atmosphere like" "I wonder if that program is for me") that they could not be answered.

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