Following Up on Recommendations

Recommendation Letters

Following Up on Recommendations


Once you have asked a professor or supervisor for a letter, it is up to you to ensure that they write it on time. There are many possible excuses for their failure, but ultimately you are responsible. You will have no excuses. Here are a few things you can do:


  • Give them as much material to write the letter as possible assemble a packet, as I have described in another post. The easier it is for them, the higher your chances. This is especially important for high school students applying to colleges. Include everything up to stamped envelopes if you need to.
  • Mention it to them: one month in advance of the deadline, two weeks in advance, and one week in advance. Email the first time can work, and in-person conversations work best. Be positive and assertive: they have already agreed to write the letter, make them feel good about doing it, rather than guilty for not doing it. Do not be afraid of this conversation. As my adviser told me, it is much easier to bug him and get results than to annoy him. He was literally asking for more assertive reminders about writing the letter on time, as he was writing 75 custom letters for his students that season.
  • Ask a secretary to advocate for your letter with the professor. If you ask the secretary to mention this to the professor, stress the human side of the matter. Make it clear that you are applying for a wonderful opportunity, and that this chance is important to you. If the secretary understands your case and empathises with you, the secretary can be a strong advocate. Make friends with the secretaries in general.
  • If you do not have personal contact with the recommender, use email reminders more frequently than you would use in-person meetings.
  • Creativity always helps, within the realm of propriety.
  • If the application system allows it, ask more people for letters than is necessary. If the graduate school asks for 3 letters, ask four people in case one of them is late.