When filling out US PhD applications in the Humanities, there is a part that asks to list three faculty members one would like to work with. I only know their biographies from the department website.

Is it recommended emailing these faculty members before or after submitting my application?

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? How should I phrase an important question that I need to ask a professor?
    – Sursula
    Dec 19, 2023 at 8:06
  • @Sursula I think only the second question is a duplicate (it shouldn't be more than one anyway), but the first question is not.
    – The Doctor
    Dec 19, 2023 at 9:47
  • 1
    @TheDoctor Yeah I know, but there shouldn't be more than one question anyway and the rest feels very much like a depends on individual factors situation
    – Sursula
    Dec 19, 2023 at 10:03
  • @Sursula Agreed. I was reading more as "is it required?", but "is it recommended?" makes it more vague. When it is a requirement it should be in the application guidelines. I'm voting to close.
    – The Doctor
    Dec 19, 2023 at 11:10
  • Will you have a masters already when you expect to start or only a bachelors?
    – Buffy
    Dec 19, 2023 at 11:42

1 Answer 1


In most fields and most universities in the US, it isn't necessary or expected to contact a potential advisor as part of the application process. Admissions are handled by a committee of faculty who evaluate all applications. This is to help assure fairness and equal treatment. One selects a dissertation advisor later, even, perhaps, after any required qualifying examinations are passed. I expect this to be the case in the humanities. The exceptions seem to be only in lab-based science.

In particular, it isn't the supervisor that "accepts" you for admission and likely has no (or very little) say in the matter unless you are truly exceptional.

A letter to a potential advisor might be fine as an introduction, but might just be a distraction for them (noise). Their proper response would probably be, "fine, make application as usual".

See the answer for the US here: How does the admissions process work for Ph.D. programs in Country X?

I suspect that the question was asked simply so that the committee can get a sense about balance in requirements for faculty time for the near to mid future so as not to overload anyone and to try to provide supervision opportunities for some other faculty.

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