How do I gently ask my professors to send in the letters of rec they agreed to write? T
December 4, 2012 9:17 AM   Subscribe

How do I gently ask my professors to send in the letters of rec they agreed to write? They are past the deadline I gave them . And, I am freaking out bc my applications cannot be reviewed by grad schools until the letters are sent in. What makes things more complicated for me is the fact that I just asked my profs in Jan for these letters, and I did ask them to save the letters. Well, I did not receive generous aid packages, so I am reapplying to another school which could fully fund me. so this is a huge deal! So I asked them again in October to resubmit the letters, and it makes me feel bad like I am burdening and bothering them, but now i am anxious that i don't have the letters. This is very worrisome to me because I do not want my application to not be submitted in time, and there are early application deadlines that I need to meet in order to be considered for merit awards
posted by TRUELOTUS to Education (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
They've already written the letters so it should hardly take them any time at all to resubmit them. This is not a burden, this is what they agreed to do for you and it's easy. Do not feel bad about asking again - they will appreciate the reminder! Remind them and tell them what the deadline is, and then thank them when it's done.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:20 AM on December 4, 2012

Please ask them again. I wrangle professorial types for a living, and CONSTANT BADGERING is kind of the norm; when someone sends something without CONSTANT BADGERING, I look upon them like a mythical beast, like maybe they are a griffin. I know this will feel awkward to you, but there's no way to avoid it.

"Dear Dr. Superbusy,

Hi! This is True Lotus. I just wanted to check on my reference letter for JazzHands University. I know this must be an incredibly busy time of year for you, but if you could send that in as soon as possible, it would be greatly appreciated.

Hope all is well with you!

posted by Greg Nog at 9:24 AM on December 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

If you want to be subtle, you can write an email thanking them for sending the letters, with your original message listing programs and deadlines attached. (You did, of course, send each professor a single message listing each program and the due date, right?)

But don't feel like you're burdening them. It is their job to write letters for students, and they want you to be successful, because your success is part of their success.
posted by BrashTech at 9:25 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said. Professors tend to have a lot on their mind, so repeated prompting is often necessary to get them to do something for you. In fact, you just reminded me that I should "remind" my supervisor to read my thesis.
posted by Premeditated Symmetry Breaking at 9:31 AM on December 4, 2012

If you know they have departmental assistants, you can try CCing them on the emails. My now-non-university-affiliated but still recommendation writing boss does this all the time, inadvertently screwing over dozens of people every year, and it's only when they think to email me, usually weeping horribly, that anything ever gets done.
posted by elizardbits at 9:32 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Hi, Professor X. I'm good. Busy, lots going on, but good. Do you remember a couple of months ago when we talked about a second letter of recommendation? It looks like maybe you haven't gotten to that yet, unless you sent it in the last day or so, and I am up against a hard deadline with my applications because I'm hoping to qualify for some merit awards. I know you're really busy, but is there any chance you could put that together in the next few days?
posted by jon1270 at 9:34 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

(1) It is there job to send these. It is fine to e-mail them, and it is not out of line to visit their office hours, call them in their offices during office hours, etc.

(2) Grad schools don't start reviewing applications nearly as soon as you think they do. Professors are grading right now and then the holidays etc. etc., so they probably won't get to applications until the new year. Unless a university secretary is e-mailing you "we cannot further review your application unless your recommenders submit letter by X date," don't worry about it. If you do get this sort of e-mail, forward it to the professors.
posted by munyeca at 9:38 AM on December 4, 2012

GregNog speaks the truth, as does elizardbits. Constant, gentle reminders with the assistant in CC are the only real way to get them to provide these letters.
posted by LN at 9:39 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't be afraid to be pushy to get it done, either. I would much rather get slightly irritated by a couple of emails and phone calls over a week or so than get EXTREMELY VASTLY irritated when my idiot boss leaves it for the last possible day and tells me to overnight the letter, which can't go FedEx because it's to a PO Box, so I have to wait on line at 5pm on a friday at the fucking post office in the middle of december, hulk smash &c.
posted by elizardbits at 9:44 AM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

What Greg Nog said. IAP though IANYP, and if you asked me in Oct it's probably slipped my mind. The prof has already written it and just needs to upload it again, right?
posted by kestrel251 at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2012

Also, it isn't necessarily true that applications are not reviewed unless all letters are present. People reviewing applications know that professors can suck at getting letters out, so they do make some accommodation for that. Unfortunately, this sometime leads to professors who know their letters don't have to be on time...

Definitely frequent, gentle reminders. Also make it clear that this is really important to you because of the chance of money.
posted by procrastination at 10:01 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding elizardbits in that you should be pushy about it. I know people who got rejected from places solely because of this. Tell them the deadline explicitly. If it's geographically feasible, threaten offer to come by the office to pick them up.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:01 AM on December 4, 2012

Answering this as someone who used to write recommendation letters for undergrads to go to grad school or obtain a new job (and hang head in shame, I sometimes did not remember until a student reminded me).....and as a person who sometimes needs to push very busy people who are experts in their field in the US or in another part of the world, and I've managed to send an email to get them to do the next step.

Sending an email is fine, but I would also consider adding the following pieces of info:

--Add a deadline-consider even putting this at the very top.

--Adding the words along the lines of whatever place/organization/etc would like to take the next steps; everyone else has already submitted X, would he or she also please submit X so that the next step can happen. For some reason this last comment gets people to move,don't know if it is guilt or because everyone else did it, or what.
posted by Wolfster at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Professor here. Like everyone said, this is part of our job, and sending a reminder is totally fine. Greg Nog's sample letter is great, though I'd make one change:

"I just wanted to check on my reference letter for JazzHands University, which was due on December X."
posted by googly at 10:06 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

OH ALSO last year one incredibly fucking cunning student sent an Outlook calendar appointment/reminder thingy to both myself and my boss saying RECOMMENDATION LETTER FOR STUDENT X DUE TODAY, scheduled for about a week before the actual due date and sent 6 weeks in advance. By the time that day rolled around, my boss assumed he himself had set the reminder and did it immediately.

This will, of course, only really work if you have a close enough relationship with the professor to do something this cheeky.
posted by elizardbits at 10:08 AM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Professor here. Like everyone said, this is part of our job, and sending a reminder is totally fine. Greg Nog's sample letter is great, though I'd make one change:

"I just wanted to check on my reference letter for JazzHands University, which was due on December X."

Since we're revising GregNog's very nice email, I'd add:

"The letter should be sent to Blah BlahName, whose email is, with subject The Required Subject."

(Basically, please don't make me do the scutwork of figuring out where exactly the letter needs to be sent to. That will guarantee that it gets pushed lower in the priority pile, so that I can do it when I have time to rummage about in websites, which....gets forgotten.)
posted by leahwrenn at 10:17 AM on December 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ugh, I just had to get a recommendation letter for a fellowship from a Member of Congress. Took about three months and 30 emails with staff.

I found that I had to be a little pushier than I was comfortable with to move things along, but that they were used to it and didn't seem to mind the reminders and prodding. Keep plugging away.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 10:18 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, gentle nudging (as outlined above) is the way to go here, particularly if it's just a matter of resending the letters, not writing new ones or updating them. And try not to freak out about it; everyone knows that recommenders can be flaky; no one will hold the letters' lateness against your application. This happens all the time and is not a problem.

One more thing just to be sure you're clear on it: you want to be sure that your email (all your email, to everyone concerned with your applications) comes across as far more polished and professional than this question. Both the emotional freak-out over a relatively tiny, trivial matter and the very sloppy, casual writing and punctuation here might come across as warning signs about your suitability for grad school. (I'm not saying this to scold you about your question — really! — just to make sure you know that you have to present yourself more professionally when you're not freaking out to strangers on the Internet.)
posted by RogerB at 10:19 AM on December 4, 2012

I'm a professor. I like it when students remind me about deadlines. Don't be afraid to be pushy. Many professors have the time management skills of drunk kangaroos. It's not at all rude to give reminders.
posted by medusa at 11:06 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Greg Nog has it. We need nagging. Getting us to do stuff is like herding cats. Really shit, disorganised, recalcitrant cats, with Asberger's and a business to run. And you can tell them I said this if it helps.
posted by cromagnon at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone :) I sent 2 of the 3 emails. And, I already heard back from one prof!
posted by TRUELOTUS at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Professor here. I agree being pushy is good. Be polite, but remind us of deadlines. But ccing the assistant might upset some and should be done only as a last resort.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:09 PM on December 4, 2012

Forgot to add: each time you contact the prof, give her all the contact info/deadlines etc. for writing the letters. It's nearly impossible to give too much information on this front.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:12 PM on December 4, 2012

There's plenty of good advice here, especially the bit about providing an easy-to-scan list of all the required letters along in every email and not being timid about sending reminders. (The idea of CCing an assistant sounds very strange to my ears, and is unlikely to be useful; but that may be field specific.)

For what it's worth, I'd include a deadline not only at the top of the letter, but also in the subject of the email.

In my experience, sending a letter such as Greg Nog's suggestion with the subject "Re: Recommendation letters - Due Jan 12" will significantly improve the odds of a positive response. It feels terribly rude the first few times your do it, but it's likely to be welcomed by your letter writers.

Also, do keep in mind that your professors may well be writing hundreds of letters this month, and that they've been trained by years of experience that (1) almost no letter deadlines are actually firm and (2) they'll be reminded about anything genuinely important as the deadline approaches. Forgetting things until someone phones you up to point out that you've missed a deadline may not be an ideal time-management strategy, and it's not very nice to students, but it's a fairly common habit among academics. Don't be afraid to speak up. It isn't at all rude or unusual to send a polite reminder a week before the deadline, on the deadline, and (in all likelyhood) a few days past the deadline. If someone's generating a new letter for you, rather than sending one that's been written previously, add another reminder a few weeks early.
posted by eotvos at 5:44 PM on December 4, 2012

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