Let us ask a few basic questions and by answering these your query shall be replied.
What is Professor contacting ?
Why does one write to the professors?
Who should write to the professors?
How does one go about writing to the professors? Or what is the art of contacting the professors?
What are the advantages of writing to the professors?
Are there any negative points in this process?
1.What is Professor contacting?
The process of contacting a professor of a university seeking his advice and help in furthering the aim of the student is known as professor contacting.The aim of the student is elucidated further in point 2 below.
2.Why does one write to the professors?
The aim of the student should be to seek the professors help for hiring him as a Research Assistant.
This point shall be understood if one knows that some professors are sanctioned research funds by the university, private organizations or government bodies. This amount is used by the professor at his discretion.With this amount the professor sets up his research team for achieving the goals for which the money is advanced to him.Thus he hires some researchers.By writing to the professor the student tries to fit into his team.
3.Who should write to the professors?
As a rule you should write to the professors if you
Have excellent academics. A position in the class or university is expected.
Have great GRE and TOEFL scores.
Have some research experience. If you have worked under some one of repute or some professor who has worked or studied in the American university where you are applying it will be excellent.
Lastly it will substantiate your case if you have some published papers in international or Indian journals of repute.
I have mentioned here what a professor looks into while reviewing your application.What weight he assigns to each of these is his circumstances.
If you are applying for PhD then you should definitely contact the professors. However if you are applying for MS or equivalent program then you must verify whether the university grants assistantship for MS candidates before writing to the professors.
Further if you are applying for professional programs or non thesis programs then you need not pursue this.
If you are not meeting the above criteria then there is no need to write to the professors while sitting here. In these circumstances get after assistantship once you reach the university.
4. How does one go about writing to the professors? Or what is the art of contacting the professors?
The first principal like everything in life is that there are no free lunches in this world.
Work out what you can offer the professor and how you can help him.
Find out what research is being carried out by him and how you can contribute to it.Unless you are able to pinpoint this a professor shall not be interested in you.
The second principal is write to him in a “matter of fact way”. Do not mention about any paid assistantship in your first letter.
Remember it is you who needs him.
Thus you must write to only those professors who are doing some research of your interest and where you feel you can comfortably fit in by contributing towards the aim of the research group.
How ? What? and Where about professor contacting is a long story and shall be dealt later.
To sum up
First select the universities where you want to apply
Second select and match your research work with what a professor is doing.Only write to the matching professors.
5.What are the advantages of writing to the professors?
I have explained above about this.If your credentials permit do contact professors for assistantship and admission help.
6. Are there any negative points in this process?
If you write to everyone or pester every professor then it certainly will be wrong.