A polite reminder to a forgetful recommendation-writer?
January 21, 2007 4:08 PM   Subscribe

How might I go about com[posing a polite "reminder" email for a... forgetful recommendation-letter writer?

I'm in the process of applying to grad schools, and the deadlines are fast-approaching. About a month ago, I made my requests to three of my undergrad professors, and all three agreed without hesitation. Since then, two of my letter-writers have written their recommendations, let me know that they'd done so, and mailed them off. I've heard nothing from the third.

One of my deadlines was Saturday, and I received an automated email from the school informing me that the letter from this third character had not been received. I'd been meaning to write him a reminder note since at least a couple weeks ago, after not hearing back from him (I acknowledge that I'm partly in a bind of my own making), but I'm incredibly skittish about email (and equally so with phone calls--I'm basically just shy to a pathological degree), and I was doubly concerned about "nagging" him about the status of his letter, when he was, after all, doing me a favor.

Well, in any case, now I know for a fact that he hasn't sent it off, as promised, and one deadline has already passed, potentially jeopardizing my application. I need to get in touch with him pronto to make sure that letters get to the remaining four schools in time.

Any guidance on wording, style, tone, etc. would be much appreciated. As would, to be honest, a sample email, outright. I need something that is both exceedingly polite, deferent, flattering, etc., but also, at this stage in the game, pretty firm. This whole mess is making me incredibly anxious, and without a little guidance, I'm just going to go further into a self-perpetuating spiral of second-guessing, and nothing will ever get done.

For context: this is a professor whose class (a twelve-hour, once-a-week, one-semester painting class) I took in the spring of 2005. We were on good terms, and we always have a friendly conversation if we run into one another. He's pretty busy, and maybe a bit high-strung (that is to say, "touchy"), however, and he's located out of Baltimore, while I'm currently living in Florida.

Thanks, guys.
posted by wreckingball to Education (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hi Prof. Foo,

I just wanted to touch base with you with respect to my grad school recommendation letters. Could you possibly let me know when you've sent them in so I can check those off my list? It would really help in keeping my application process organized.

As a reminder, X University's deadline was last week; Y, Z, and A's deadlines are these three dates.

Thanks, and I really appreciate your willingness to help me out.


... also, if I recall correctly from when I applied last year, schools give recommenders a more lax deadline than they give you. You may not be in too much trouble with the deadline that has passed.
posted by olinerd at 4:14 PM on January 21, 2007

"Hi, Professor X--

I hope this finds you well. I just wanted to put a bug in your ear regarding that letter of recommendation for Whatsamatta U. that we discussed a month ago. I know this is a really busy time, but deadlines are approaching fast, and the university has already informed me that I've missed the first deadline.

Anything you could do to expedite the matter would be greatly appreciated, Professor X. Once again, thanks so much for lending me a hand. I hope your semester is going well, and I hope to see you soon.

posted by shallowcenter at 4:19 PM on January 21, 2007

Go with olinerd's email. Professors write a LOT of letters (my advisor wrote over 800 letters last year) and some will just slip through the cracks. So professors actually appreciate reminders and would not consider your email an annoyance. So thank him again, acknowlege how busy he probably is and then remind him of all the deadlines.

For future reference, do what I do. After asking for letters, I send my committee reminders 10 days before something is due (I remind myself by adding a note on my calendar). Most will reply saying they sent it. If I haven't heard anything three days before the deadline, I call.
posted by special-k at 4:36 PM on January 21, 2007

I used to use something along these lines regardless of if they forgot:

Hi Prof,

I was just touching base to see if you may need any more information regarding the letter of rec you were kind enough to provide to X University.

Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to do this for me.


It's a polite reminder that doesn't explicitly say 'you missed my deadline'.
posted by ASM at 4:54 PM on January 21, 2007

I concur with special-k that olinerd has the right tone: straightforward, factual, politely efficient.

I also agree with special-k that the already-missed deadline is not (yet) a reason to panic. The conventional wisdom, at least, is that admissions committees are more forgiving of referees' lateness than of applicants'. Still, it's time to light a (straightforward, factual, and politely efficient) fire under Professor X.
posted by Orinda at 6:23 PM on January 21, 2007

If I can reinforce one thing to the excellent advice already given: be concise. Every person is different but my experience has been that most professors are skilled at throwing away unnecessary words and quickly recognizing the meat of an argument (it's a necessary skill for a prof) and they will appreciate a very short e-mail. No need to be exceedingly polite and flattering, all those words will only make your email harder to parse in 3 seconds. They gave you their word and all you need to do is remind them of their obligation. ASM's is great. I would say:

Dear Prof X,

Can you give me a status update on the recommendation letter for University Y? The deadline was Saturday the 15th.

Thanks again so much for your help,
- Paul

Everyone misses the odd deadline and sometimes things slip. This is a fact of life. Your prof should react with the appropriate amount of urgency. If you don't hear from him in three or four days I think then you could write back a little more firmly.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:52 PM on January 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't remind. You thank him/her for ALREADY HAVING WRITTEN the letter.
posted by NucleophilicAttack at 7:15 PM on January 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

You don't remind. You thank him/her for ALREADY HAVING WRITTEN the letter.

If a student took that tack with me, I'd be tempted to thank him/her for already having put me in the ideal mood to compose an expedited yet sincerely enthusiastic recommendation.

they will appreciate a very short e-mail

Right on. Short, and informative. olinerd's review of due dates would be helpful.

Good luck to you, wreckingball.
posted by Orinda at 10:23 PM on January 21, 2007

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