Yes, but do it strategically and never annoy a professor or admissions director – it can hurt your chance of admission. Contacting appropriate faculty to ask well thought out questions can help you in several ways:
- If the faculty member is on the admissions committee and remembers your professionalism, and that asked good questions, your application could get their support more easily.
- Asking a well thought out and relavent question can lead to insights about a program that you can use later to tailor your statement of purpose. A focused SOP with comments about the research you conducted when considering the school will make it much stronger.
- When you arrive on campus and have a relationship with a faculty member, you are well on your way to building a professional network.
Special note to international applicants: Don’t send an email that reads “I have a xxx GRE score and a x.xx GPA from YYY University. Do I have a chance of admission to your program?” This question is not a form of research or due diligence. It is shortsighted. What you could ask is something open ended, easy for them to answer quickly, and shows your sincere interest in understanding the program before you apply.
Do read everything about the faculty, including their profile and background, to find connection points between you and them. Be sure to identify yourself as a potential applicant and include the city where you live so it is easier to remember. Then ask your question in succinct language. You want to be memorable, but not annoying.
If they respond, thank them and ask a second easy, but equally high quality question. Don’t dump multiple questions on them or a response is unlikely. String out your questions over time to continue building up the relationship and your name recognition.
These general principals will help separate you from other applicants that show up for the first time as a complete application (stealth applicants). It can help move you off the bubble if you are there, and can create a fan within the admissions committee.
I strongly recommend contacting professors if you are strategic about it. The benefits are significant.