How to Write a Thank-You Letter or Note to Your Professor


When you write to your professor, be honest and sincere about what you say. If applicable, start by thanking him/her for what he/she has specifically done for you, such as writing a letter of recommendation or reviewing your thesis. If you really respect and admire this teacher, by all means say so. Then think about something specific about what this teacher has done that you liked or was especially helpful. Describe or recall that occasion in detail and explain how you felt about it. You can do this even for a teacher that you didn't like so much -- even a mediocre teacher must have done something good at least once. Conclude your letter with another thank-you and sign it at the bottom.

Here is an example.



Dear Professor Jones,

Thank you so much for taking the time from your busy schedule to write a letter of recommendation for my graduate school application. I know that it will be helpful in my endeavor to become a student at Harvard.

I can honestly say that you are one of the best teachers I have had in 16 years of schooling. I remember your lecture on the apparent motion of satellites over the surface of the Earth. In one instant, I suddenly understood what was bothering me for years -- Why do satellites and spacecraft follow those crazy wavy patterns over the equator? Your insight and your careful, thoughtful explanation made a complex subject easy to understand. I looked forward to attending your class each week.

Once again, thank you for your time. I wish you the very best in the coming year.

Sincerely,

John Smith, Class of 2013
Mechanical Engineering 201, Winter 2013


Please don't copy this example too closely. Use your own words. Always be sincere.

A card, letter, or personal note mailed or delivered to your professor's office, will leave a better impression than using email, but use email if you don't have the time or inclination to write a note on paper.

Here's another web site with good advice: How to Write a Thank You Card to a College Professor

More example letters are available here: Thank You Professor

Good luck with your letter!

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Thank You to Professor Chenming Hu

Did some teacher influence or inspire you in a positive way? He or she would appreciate hearing from you. Nearly 20 years after my graduation, I wrote to a favorite college professor, Chenming Hu, to thank him for his excellent teaching and the lasting inspiration that he gave. I told him about my computer games, my career, my family, and so on. But what did he most enjoy hearing about? I recalled an incident from my days as his student.

Back in 1977, I had dental surgery to remove two wisdom teeth. Even though I was still in pain from the procedure, I went to Professor Hu's class because I didn't want to miss it. Later, I went to see him during his office hours to ask about a homework problem. The first thing he said was, "Are you all right? You didn't look well in class yesterday." I was surprised that he had noticed my condition.

Twenty years later, Professor Hu was pleased to hear this story and was moved to write a kind letter in response, which is reproduced below.



Dear Gray:

It was an unexpected and extraordinary pleasure to receive your letter and the photo of your family.

I'm sorry to admit that you don't look more familiar to me than your daughter. But, 20 years. Perhaps it is just the power of suggestion; after reading your letter, I did recover some memory of the incident that you described.

Thank you for telling me the fascinating career path that you have followed. "Dog Daze" and "Claim Jumper," wow!

Shortly before receiving your letter, I was notified I was selected as a finalist for a 1996 Distinguished Teaching Award of UC Berkeley and that I should write a statement of teaching philosophy for the final selection process. I wrote the statement today and used your letter for the opening paragraph. A copy of the statement is enclosed. I hope you don't mind my characterization of your age -- I can use the suggestion from a professional writer for an alternative adjective.

Thank you very much for your letter. I am enclosing a photo of my family.

Sincerely,

Chenming Hu
Professor



Professor Hu received the Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997. His essay began as follows:

Statement of Teaching Philosophy -- Chenming Hu

Last month, I received a letter from a sender whose name I did not recognize. Inside was a two page typed letter with a photo of a middle-aged couple and their young daughter. The letter said, "I was a student in an undergraduate class you taught about 20 years ago ... I am writing to say "thank you" -- better late than never!" He recounted an incident "Later, when I was feeling better, I went to you for help on a problem during your office hours. You remembered that I didn't seem well in class and expressed your concern for my well-being. I was surprised that you noticed my condition in the classroom." Once again I was reminded of the generous long-term dividends we teachers receive and paused to reflect upon my teaching philosophies then and now.

I have always believed that respect for and sincerity to students are the first rule of teaching and that this attitude goes a long way towards effective teaching. The student feedback that delights me most is "He cares."

In teaching, my first goal is to motivate, reassure, and confirm. This helps me to better achieve the second goal -- to impart knowledge. A teacher must first of all protect the flickers of curiosity, enthusiasm, and inventiveness. Never smother them in the eagerness to teach or to impress. Most students should always be challenged but never frustrated. I apply these same principles to tutoring of my teenage son at home -- with greater difficulty.

...

Professor Hu's essay goes on further to describe his teaching methods and philosophy. A summarized version is available at the Distinguished Teaching at Berkeley web site.



In 2007, I had the good fortune to meet Professor Hu in person, for the first time in 30 years, during an event at the UC Berkeley campus. I chatted briefly with him and his wife, Margaret, about the old days, and I asked about his two sons. You can read about his older son at Raymond's Website.

In 2011, I had another opportunity to see Professor Hu. He came to visit the company where I work to give a technical presentation about the latest developments in integrated circuit technology, including the FinFET transistor, which he helped to invent and name. I showed him a sample of my technical writing work that was related to his presentation topic. I explained that while doing research for this project, I came across his name in the literature!



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2005-2010 Gray Chang. Last updated August 2013.