An open email to a prospective graduate student

and to the dozens of other such students that contact me, and hundreds of other faculty members every semester, seeking help with their admission or financial aid.

On 1/30/06, *******wrote:

I am **** ****, a prospective student from ****. I am
seeking admission for Fall 2007. I apologize if I am
putting forward a wrong question!

A gist of my background is; I am a graduate of...

Dear **** ****,
   You need to direct your inquiry through the proper graduate admissions procedure listed at  Please be assured that if you send all your materials through that channel, they will most definitely be routed to the faculty member best able to help you with your admission interest.

As for me, I have no role in graduate admissions or in the graduate program at all.  My appointment focuses 100% on undergraduate activities.

Furthermore, it may be helpful for you to know that

you would probably be wasting your time.

The fact is, many graduate faculty members (not just at Delaware, but at other Universities as well) consider emails such as yours to be an annoying form of undesirable spam that is unlikely to help your chances of admission.   Most likely is that your email will have no effect whatsoever.  It could even hurt your chances.

If someone is encouraging you to send such emails, you are getting bad advice. Clearly, someone must be, because faculty members get dozens of such emails each week and most are routinely deleted.

I'm sorry to be so hard on you. I know you are trying your best to to further your chances. I just hate to see so much sincere effort by capable prospective students directed to such a meaningless activity. So I want to offer some advice that may help you.

Unless you are targetting a specific faculty member with specific questions about his or her research program, you would be better off to not send such emails at all.  

Examples of good email content include specifics such as:

I read your paper titled _____.   I found it interesting that your research group ______________.  I think I might like to do research in this area. In particular, I am interested in investigating _______. Some of my own ideas about this topic are _______.

Note that you could try to "fake" it by doing a kind of form letter where you fill in the title of a faculty member's publications and one or two sample sentences with superficial content related to the faculty members research.    I have seen such attempts in the unsolicited emails I get.

However, faculty members who supervise graduate students are NOT looking for students who can "fake it".  They are looking for students with genuine original thoughts about their research areas, and genuine interest, and the ability to read research papers in-depth and draw non-obvious conclusions.

You indicate that your interest is in security.  Even a cursory examiniation of the UD CIS Department web site would indicate that (a) I am not now doing, nor have I ever done, any significant work in security. My research activities and publications are in the are of transport protocols and multimedia. (b) In the UD CIS Department, unless I have overlooked something, there is one faculty member (and really one only) with a focus on security. The focus of that faculty member's research is almost entirely 100% security. Since security is the only research area you mention, why would you send email to anyone else?

If sincere, diligent and wise, you will seek out that faculty member's page, read that faculty member's work, and decide if it is interesting to you.  If so, you should be able to write a very effective individual email to him/her with specific comments and observations about his/her research that go beyond the superficial.  That is an effective way to increase your chances of admission and financial aid. Anything else is just spam.

To emphasize: if are willing to

then this "emailing" may have merit.  That will take time, and may be able to send only 3 or 4 such emails, rather than 300-400.  However, your time will be much better spent.  You are much more likely to get a positive response.   Furthermore, even if you do not get any response at all, you will have spent your time learning about recent publications in a research area that interests you.

Good luck in your studies.

Respectfully yours,
Phill Conrad

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