I am applying for graduate school and asked three of my professors to write me reference letters to all 3 schools I'm applying to. Turns out, one of the programs is a professional program and only needs one academic reference. How can I nicely tell two of my professors that I actually don't need them to write me a reference? I know it means less work for them, but I don't want it to seem like I don't respect them or value their time.

Thank you!

  • Unless it is a few days before the deadline, they most likely didn't write the letter yet. The faster you act, the better.
    – user151413
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 9:21

3 Answers 3


When I had a similar situation, I reached out to my references, copying them all on the same email (so they all knew who they were) to let them know I had just learned I didn't need as many LORs as I had thought and offered that if they hadn't yet written the letters and anyone was really busy, I could let someone off the hook. I later learned they talked among themselves to decide who was busiest. One of them was really backed up and delighted to know his to-do list just got shorter.

  • 1
    I'd only email all of them in one email if I knew they were comfortable with everyone else knowing who they are.
    – user151413
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 9:21
  • 1
    @user151413 Why would you be uncomfortable with other colleagues knowing you are writing a letter for someone? It's pretty common to ask people who's writing their other letters (though maybe not at the undergrad level).
    – Kimball
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 13:54
  • @Kimball I don't know, and it depends on lots of circumstances, and "they won't mind" is a good default, but the cost function is also asymmetric, as there's more to lose (in the sense of upsetting someone) than to win. I just think it is important to keep in mind when you email several people that this reveals things about them about which they might be more or less comfortable, and you never know for sure.
    – user151413
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 20:01

Since you've already asked these professors for references, I would just let them proceed with sending all three references to all of the schools. That way you don't have to decide which referee is your "favourite" and risk offending the other two.

Having the school receive additional references ---beyond what they've requested--- is unlikely to cause any serious problems in the application; at worst the school might decide to ignore two of your three references for fairness to other applicants. If you're concerned about this case, you can contact that school and explain to them why they are receiving excess references, and let them know that you're happy for them to ignore two of the three references if they want to.

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    As a potential letter writer, I'd much rather be spared the work than do useless work because someone was trying to spare my ego... Commented Feb 2, 2022 at 21:23
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    Some schools may automatically discard the application for not following the rules, so it isn't completely safe.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 7:53
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    I'd second Marc Glisse's comment: I'd be rather annoyed if I learned that I had to write a letter though it was notn needed.
    – user151413
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 9:22
  • Question specifies that referees are lready writing their letter for three schools (only one of which is subject to the referee limit in question). So the only useless work is sending a letter that is already written as a reference for two other applications.
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 20:45

If you have completed all the requirements for the program you have applied for, I don’t, sincerely, understand your concern.

If you have received more than one letter of recommendation, that’s excellent and you should save that in your files for later pursuits.

I do not feel it would be in your best interest to actually tell a professor or a scholarly individual to not write you a non-confidential letter of reference because it more than likely will not hurt you.

However simple direct communication with them would not offend them (in my opinion.)

Simply explain your circumstances and they will have empathy with you.

As a professor myself I can attest to this directly.

All these answers are simply opinions, and I have brought you mine, succinctly and truthfully.

Sometimes it is simply lack of communication that gets us into troubles.. and can inculcate somewhat irrational worries.

  • I don't think the OP has received any letters. Usually letters are sent directly.
    – user151413
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 9:23

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