Grad School Application Timeline: The Outreach Email

Outreach Emails, the first step in the application process

Navigating the labyrinth of graduate school applications can be exhausting, so you’ll want to be happy with the outcome. Although the most difficult parts of the process come later, one of the earliest steps in you timeline should be making contact with programs that might interest you. This first communication can help set the tone for your entire application process, and also can help you to identify programs where your chances of admission are strongest, or have other factors (social, bureaucratic, interpersonal) that may influence your decision.

Ironically, the early step in the timeline is often one of the most intimidating. Reaching out to potential schools, however, feels riskier than it is, and arguably one common mistake is under-communication. If an applicant applies to a program with scant information, an admission offer could bring with it more questions than answers. Thus the point of these outreach emails is both to provide information in advance of applying, and to receive information from the institution. Here are three versions of an outreach email with brief explanations of what does and does not work with each.

The Terse Email

For whatever reason, it’s not uncommon to feel that anything beyond the “point” is filler. In this instance it can result in an overly brief yet direct email.

Subject: Graduate Program Inquiry

Hey Obi at University of Tatooine,

My name is Luke. I’m applying for admission to your Womp Rat Biology MS program for the fall of 2022.

What GRE score do I need to get in? On my last test, I got a 155 Quant and 156 Verbal. Is this good enough?



Although this message is concise, it provides very little introduction to the applicant. Beside leaving out background and specific interests, there is nothing that shows basic familiarity with the particular graduate program in question. In this case, the brevity could be misinterpreted as a lack of genuine effort or seriousness, which certainly doesn’t make a favorable impression.

The Rambling Email

At the other end of the spectrum, we find the over-communicators. These individuals overshare, resulting in long, rambling messages where the point may or may not be clear.

Subject: Hello there–Several Questions I have for [Specific] Graduate Program

Dear Graduate Admissions Staff at University of Tatooine,

My name is Luke. I’m applying for admission to your Womp Rat Biology MS program for the fall of 2022.

I’m very excited about applying to your program and believe that based on my past experiences and skills, I have what it takes to be a successful graduate student. I have a BA in Alien Biology and conducted research during my capstone research project on the adaptive physiology of Tuscen Raiders. I’m passionate about the ecology of Tatooine and am particularly interested and concerned about the impact of Imperialism on the biodiversity of the planet.

I’m in the process of pulling my application materials together and I have some questions about the GRE. I’ve taken the GRE three times, and each time I’ve gotten very different scores. I struggle with managing my time on the Quant sections even though I’ve mastered the majority of essential skills and concepts. Growing up a Tauntaun rancher on Hoth, I came into the GRE with strong linguistic skills making the verbal sections feel less challenging.

What I’m hoping to determine is whether my GRE scores are competitive enough. My highest scores have been a 156 on the Quant sections, a 159 on the Verbal sections, and a 4 on the AWA. Do you think it’s best if I retake the GRE to see if I can score higher? Or do you think there’s a strong chance that I could be accepted with the scores I currently have?

What were the average GRE scores of last year’s applicants? I’d also love to – if possible – jump into a Holochat with a few of your current graduate students to ask them questions about the program and about their experience taking the GRE. I think that would be super helpful for me to get a better sense of how competitive I am as an applicant.

How’s the weather on Tatooine? We’re entering summer here on Hoth, so I’m down to wearing just a single fur coat instead of four of them!

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my email. I just super appreciate everything you all do and I can’t wait to hear back from you soon!



While this message showcases the sender’s enthusiasm and provides plenty of information, its sheer volume can be off-putting. Admissions teams are busy, and a lengthy email like this might get only a cursory read. Additionally, the personal commentary at the end may have been an attempt to personalize the communication, however, the irrelevance of these personal details to the information request may leave the impression that the author lacks emotional intelligence and/or social judgment in communicating.

The Well Balanced Email

After the two previous emails, the importance of striking a balance between a brief introduction and a clearly stated request should be clear. Here is an example of a crafted, well-balanceed outreach email:

Subject: Inquiry about [Specific] Graduate Program

Hello Graduate Admissions Staff at University of Tatooine,

My name is Luke Skywalker. I’m a prospective student applying for admission to your Womp Rat Biology MS program for the fall of 2022.

I am currently pulling together my application materials and have a few questions about your required or recommended GRE scores. Is there a section of the program website or graduate school website that lists that information? So far, I haven’t been able to locate that information, so any data or other resources you would be willing to share with me would be hugely helpful!

For context, I want to ascertain whether I would be competitive for both admissions as well as any teaching assistantship openings for the fall of 2022. Based on last year’s admissions cohort – and especially those individuals that were awarded teaching assistantships – what score goals should I set for myself on the GRE?

Also, is there a certain section of the GRE that the program considers more closely? For example, should I prioritize performing well on the Quant sections and be less concerned about the Verbal sections given the scientific focus of the program?

Thank you so much for your help. I’m really excited about applying and by the prospect of joining your prestigious graduate program. Please feel free to contact me via email at [email protected] or via Holochat at my chat handle NeverTauntaTauntan1829.


Luke Skywalker

This email is concise, personalized, and professional. It gives just enough information about the applicant and their interest in the program, and it has a clear, respectful request at its core. It is sure to leave a positive impression on the recipient.

Remember, graduate school outreach is a critical early step in your application process. Strike the right balance in your communication – take the time to introduce yourself yet remain concise and clear as to purpose. This will set the tone for a successful application journey, demonstrating not only your interest but also your respect for the recipient’s time and responsibilities.


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