How do I remind my professor to write that letter of recommendation?
January 24, 2008 11:28 AM   Subscribe

Now that I've asked for all of my letters of recommendation for graduate school, how do I politely remind one of my professors that he had agreed to write a letter for me?

I asked a professor to write a letter of recommendation for me in early December, with a deadline of January 15th as a concrete date. My school provides a reference letter service that collects all of my reference letters and then sends them to the necessary places, and I can see online that the professor has not sent my letter in yet. I know that he is extremely busy, and I am not pressed for time on my application deadlines (yet), but I'd like to make sure that my letter hasn't been lost or forgotten about, and to get it in to the service as soon as possible. He is not a current professor of mine. Should I go in to see him during his office hours? Should I send him a quick email? In either case, what do I say, and how do I say it politely?
posted by andeles to Human Relations (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
When I was applying for grad school a few years back, about a month prior to the deadline I sent out a blind copy email to all my letter writers reminding them. My thinking at the time was that way it didn't seem like I was singling out anyone in particular. I just mentioned that the deadline was approaching and I think I just asked everyone to quickly reply with whether or not they had sent in their letter. Mind you we did not have a fancy online system to keep track of what letters were sent. All my letter writers could remember the rigors and stress of application time and no one seemed put off by this.

If you do send this person an email, I would give them a week to respond and if not then got with a bit more of a direct approach.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 11:37 AM on January 24, 2008

I'd go with a quick, polite, informal E-mail.

Dear Dr. So-and-So:

Thanks very much for agreeing to write me a letter of recommendation. I appreciate the assistance. I was just wondering if you've had the time to take care of that yet? Thanks again, and thanks for keeping me informed. I look forward to hearing back from you.

posted by Faint of Butt at 11:38 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd email, unless your professor is not an emailing person. Just be straightforward and to the point, without blaming them directly. Yes, busy profs do need reminders because reminder notes get lost in the pile around the holidays.

Dr. Whatsyourname -

I checked the status of my recommendation letters on (online resource name here). I saw that your letter for (grad school name here) wasn't listed, and just wanted to make sure that it hadn't gotten lost along the way. As a reminder, the letter was due on January 15th, and I'd like to make sure that everything in my application goes as smoothly as possible. Thanks again for agreeing to do this, and let me know if you need more information.

posted by mbd1mbd1 at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

A polite email note is fine. Profs have a lot of these things to do, and I've never found one to be annoyed or angry that I reminded them to do it.
posted by number9dream at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2008

I would remind him indirectly by forwarding him something that you 'thought might be of use while writing your LOR'. Like an updated CV, or a copy of your statement of purpose, etc. Maybe something about how you know how busy he/she must be, and then remind them if there is anything else that you can provide them, as the deadline is ......
posted by kristin at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2008

I had to do this about a month ago, when I had one reference left to be received by the school. I said something like this:

Dear professor,

Thanks again for agreeing to do a reference for me. At this point, the school has let me know that it is the only outstanding item for my application to be completed. The admissions committee has indicated that they will need it by [insert date] for my application to receive full consideration.

If there is anything else that you need from me (writing samples, grades in other courses, etc.), please let me know.

I appreciate all your help and support! It's been a great encouragement to me.




I guarantee that the professor doesn't want to think he/she was the one variable that caused your application to not be considered.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

IAAP. mbd1mbd1's suggestion is the best so far. Don't ask, just remind; and an implication that it was "lost" (rather than forgotten) is a good face-saving gesture.
posted by googly at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2008

I'd go see them if possible and then use one of the polite "reminder" excuses already listed. Why not email? Because a very responsible, email-centric prof of mine agreed to write me a letter (he was the kind of prof who runs classes online, does online chat office hours, etc.). He emailed to tell me he'd received the stamped, pre-addressed envelope for him to use to mail the letter. I sent him a few polite reminder emails to which he responded-- the final one he sent said, "I've just written the letter and will mail it out tomorrow."

Then 2 months after the application deadline the school contacted me and asked if I intended to turn in my final letter. At this point I emailed him again and heard nothing (and still haven't heard a peep from him in the intervening 6 years, although I know he is still alive and working).
posted by holyrood at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2008

Best answer: Personally, I see no reason to beat around the bush. No need to invent some other pretext for the message. Profs are busy and letters sometimes slip. A concise reminder is all you need, but make sure you also remind them how to submit it. And I will second holyrood that it is better to stop by their office if you can. They will probably do it on the spot for you if they aren't otherwise occupied. Profs get a lot of e-mails and there is a chance your prof will not get to your message right away.

And about what googly said - ordinarily I would simply remind the prof that the deadline is past, but sometimes letters do get lost along the way. Just last week I got a note from a program I applied for saying they were missing my supervisor's letter, which was odd because my supervisor had told me he submitted it. He double-checked and apparently had filled the whole thing out two weeks ago but forgot to click the 'submit' button (or else maybe it didn't go through, who knows). So give them the benefit of the doubt and phrase your question like "it looks like the letter hasn't yet been received" instead of "it looks like you haven't sent the letter".
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:13 PM on January 24, 2008

I'm in the process of getting all of my recommendation letters in for various schools with different deadlines, and I have one professor who always has to wait until the day before the deadline for each school before she submits. She's genuinely concerned about me going to grad school and is probably one of my best referees; she just happens to be really forgetful about that sort of thing. I've been sending her reminder emails about a week before each deadline, and another reminder 1-2 days before the deadline if it hasn't been submitted yet, and it's worked fine.
posted by pravit at 12:30 PM on January 24, 2008

Best answer: Your prof is probably going to be happy to have a reminder -- any reminder. I write a raft of recommendation letters each year, and I appreciate being kept "on task."
posted by ferdydurke at 1:17 PM on January 24, 2008

I work in graduate admissions for my program, and we will usually send out reminder emails for our applicants (mainly because we like the letters to be submitted electronically and the email we send out contains directions on how to do that). So that might be something.

But, yeah, a quick email is o.k. I used to actually drop by the professor's office just so he could see the subtle panic in my face at him not yet having written the letter this close to the deadline! Most profs are nice people who just have a lot on their plate and just need a gentle reminder.
posted by bluefly at 1:22 PM on January 24, 2008

What ferdydurke said:
Your prof is probably going to be happy to have a reminder -- any reminder. I write a raft of recommendation letters each year, and I appreciate being kept "on task."

Also, just so you know, in the academic department I was involved in, some of the application deadlines were notoriously soft (not so much for the applicants as for anything the professors had to do behind the scenes), so they might be used to a lot of tolerance for slippage. I'm not defending this, just telling you so you can have some idea. There are at least two categories, and this person might think your application falls into the "it's 'due' [wink wink] on January 15, but the first committee meeting is in March" category rather than the "this grant application must be postmarked no later than January 15" category.
posted by salvia at 6:33 PM on January 24, 2008

And just to give you a horror story, my fiance's friend had all his letter writers in order and one of his professors told him AFTER THE DEADLINE that in fact he had not forgotten the letter, but had actually declined to write it because he didn't think the program was a good fit for this guy. The friend was absolutely flabbergasted - why not just say so??

Luckily for you, I think that's incredibly rare.
posted by crinklebat at 9:53 PM on January 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and the reassuring stories, everyone! I thought that an email would be fine, and it turns out you all were right.
posted by andeles at 12:08 PM on January 25, 2008

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