I've requested a letter of recommendation from my college advisor three times now. Should I get firm with him? Will this ultimately hurt my recommendation?

He keeps saying he's happy to write it and a big supporter of me/my work, but I was supposed to have a letter 3 weeks ago and he still hasn't given me anything. I don't want to just give up on it because I had a good rapport with the teacher and this will be my "strongest" letter.

Answers

Amy McElroy, Former Attorney, Writer, Editor, parent of a junior high and high school student

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The one thing I would add or emphasize on top of the good advice the others have given above is to try to catch the professor at a good time when you talk with him. Go to office hours, walk back to his office with him after class, so you aren't inconveniencing him. It's a delicate balance because you do have to pester him about it to make sure it gets done on time, but you don't want him to feel pestered. So, find a way to be as friendly as possible and make this as easy on him as possible, as the other people have suggested with their excellent, specific advice. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous, Former graduate student

Getting letters of recommendation are not always an easy and painless process. For the most part, professors/teachers will be glad to help you out and write a letter of recommendation for you, especially if you go up to them and ask sincerely. The sad reality is, they may not always place it as a top priority, especially of they are busy. They may forget or have difficulty in finding time to write a letter for you, especially if they want to write you a quality letter of recommendation.

The best thing that you can do is follow up with them nicely, reminding them periodically. I had to do this for graduate school. Two of my references submitted their letter promptly, but one professor (who was always especially busy), kept putting it off despite my constant reminding. I found out that what helps is if they are given a deadline. Once my professor knew that the deadline was fast approaching, he finally found the time to complete my letter. You can only do so much, but if you keep following up (nicely!) and give them a deadline, I'm sure you will be able to get your letter 9 times out of 10. I hope this helps and good luck receiving your letter!

Nedda Gilbert, MSW, Educational Consultant, and Author

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Write the letter of recommendation yourself. Make an appointment to see him (no need to share you'll be bringing this along), and give him the sample letter to read - in your presence. Tell him you can only imagine how busy he is and you hope this will help inform and guide him on what to write.

You may remember that in high school you and your parents filled out lengthy brag sheets for your college recommendations. Chances are your guidance counselors composed your college rec letter by lifting straight from these brag sheets. This is sorta the same thing. Let the college adviser know that's why you thought to write the letter yourself. It's possible your college adviser may be procrastinating because he has so much on his plate and/or needs some more further information from you. That said, it's still pretty bad form on his part to drag this on and on.

If your advisor won't make the appointment to see you, or gives you a date that exceeds the date by which you need the letter, email him and send the rec letter you wrote as an attachment. Take the high road and apologize if you are imposing but you really, really need this letter from him by X date, and "please see the attached," in the hope it helps. Make the subject heading, "High Importance - Please Read." Let him know you are comfortable with him using sections of your letter. If you don't hear back, move on, as others here have suggested. Your adviser may be your biggest fan, but he's also a first-class weasel. It's time to cut him loose.

You could go to the dept chair and say you have now been placed in an untenable position and that you need this letter by a certain date. Offer them the letter and see what you can make happen without any blame. It's important you not miss out on an opportunity because of this adviser. Politely make that clear to the academic department and then move onward to someone else, or have them handle it.

Writing recs is part of a college adviser's job. A department chair may be able to attach his/her signature to the letter you wrote, or some version of it, and quickly give you what you need. There may be something tragic going on - serious illness, a divorce. Who knows. Either way, the department chair or staff should help. Best of luck!

Anonymous, Sam Museus is a professor of Higher Education

Frustrating indeed. When is the letter due? If the deadline is approaching, you might want to convey the due date to him to spark a sense of urgency. You can also nicely convey to him that you are wondering if he has the time to invest in writing a strong letter for you and, if not, you completely understand and can ask someone else. I agree that having some backups in mind is probably a good idea at this point.

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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How frustrating. You could sit down with the professor and see if there are any pieces of information he needs in an attempt to compel him to write it. If he agreed to write the letter, it would be unprofessional of him to not write it in a timely way. Perhaps there is something new on your resume that you could tell him about as a way to remind him to get it done!? If you still don't get it, it is time to ask someone else. Not getting into a program because of a letter would be heartbreaking. You are in a hard spot. I wish you well.

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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I understand how frustrating this is!

If you have only contacted him through email, consider going to see him in person. Let him know (again) how much you appreciate his time, and, if necessary, how awkward you feel about being persistent. In person, you'll have a better read on why it has taken so long. I suspect that he has a long list of things to do and easily forgets; he'll be less likely to forget again if you have visited in person and he can hear your need. If you can't make it to his office, call.

If he still doesn't follow through, ask somebody else. Let that person know that time is of the essence and that while you have been responsible about securing a recommendation, your advisor hasn't been able to follow through. If your first choice just can't or won't write what you need, reach out to another before missing a deadline.

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