After extensive research on writing to potential PhD advisors, I drafted three messages that I would consider excellent quality-one for each member I was interested in. I briefly introduced myself, hit the highlights of my research interests, and mentioned specific articles or books the professor wrote that I read, which explained my interest in them as an advisor (and I truly did read them).

After three weeks, I have not received a reply. Why am I not hearing back? Is it completely inappropriate to send a follow up email such as "Hello Professor So and So, I sent you an email a few weeks ago about my research interests and asked for a phone or email correspondence about the program. I wanted to touch base and make sure you received that email"?

  • 4
    What would you hope or expect to have in reply? Individual faculty have little control over graduate admissions, unless they themselves happen to be on the admissions committee. About all they could write back is to point you to the admissions procedure and wish you luck. Admittedly, they probably should have done so out of courtesy, but many faculty get so many well-meaning but misguided emails like this that they may have given up.
    – iayork
    Feb 26, 2016 at 19:27
  • 1
    @iayork I don't agree. I have been given the advice that applying to a PhD program without already having made contact with a potential advisor is like a shot in the dark. Professors have means to "champion" a student through admissions. Feb 26, 2016 at 19:50
  • 1
    @AustinHenley This very much depends on the department.
    – Fomite
    Feb 26, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    @AustinHenley This is undoubtedly true in some contexts, but I think in the majority -- and probably the great majority -- of US research universities, admissions are nearly out of individual professors' hands.
    – iayork
    Feb 26, 2016 at 20:00

1 Answer 1


Doctoral admissions in the United States is usually done at the departmental level. Departments convene admissions committees and these usually utilize one of the following strategies for selection:

  1. Candidates are chosen who are presumed will work with one particular faculty member (or a small group of faculty) who will serve as their advisors or project leaders.

  2. Candidates are chosen without faculty assignments and are expected to find an advisor / project group in the first one or two years

This is very discipline and department/university specific.

In the case of type #1, yes it helps to contact a POI (professor of interest) who will be your presumed advisor. In the case of type #2, there's no real advantage to contacting faculty.

However, you should note that even in the case of #1-type departments, faculty do not respond to cold-call e-mails for all sorts of reasons, so one cannot read too much into non-communication. Also, in many #1-type departments, the decision is still ultimately made by the admission committee and not by the individual faculty member, which is why they may tell you that the decision is out of their hands.

I suggest writing to graduate students in the department whose interests best align with your own. They can give a sense of which type of selection committee the department utilizes, and which faculty generally respond positively and promptly to e-mail.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .