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I am currently applying to Ph.D. programs at several universities. Since I was a transfer student in my undergraduate years, and I have great relationships with my professors at community college, I asked them to be my letter writers for letter of recommendations.

Today I received an email from one of the schools I am applying to asking for a LOR from a professor from the school that I got my bachelor's degree (or else they are likely to reject my application). They give me time until mid January to turn that in.

My problems now are: 1. I graduated five years ago and have not contacted my professors there 2. I contacted their departments today to find out their office hours but they are gone for winter breaks already.

It seems like that my only option is to just email them. And my thoughts are that the worse case scenario is just a "no" from them. And as long as I am being polite, I would not be blacklisted (please correct me if I am wrong on this).

If that is the case,should I be straight forward in my email explaining my situation honestly and ask them if they could write me a LOR or since I have until mid January, just ask them for a LOR as I would normally do it?

I drafted the two versions. Any comments or feedback will be helpful and greatly appreciated. Or if none of my solutions is a good one, I would really appreciate any other ideas.

Thank you very much!


First version:

Dear Dr. Smith,

This is Mary, I took your XYZ class back in 2010. I apologize for my presumptuous email. I was on campus today but found out there is no class this week. I was hoping to ask you in person to see if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation.

I was majoring in ABC and I am currently applying to CDF. (and I plan to give some more background info)

You are the best person to write me a letter because not only did I gotten an A+ in your XYZ class and you made great comments about my group project on WHATEVER, your class was also the class that raised my awareness in XXX. I have my statement of purpose, transcripts, curriculum vita ready, which I will be able to provide.


2nd version:

Dear Dr. Smith,

This is Mary, I took your XYZ class back in 2010. I apologize for my presumptuous email. I was on campus today but found out there is no class this week. I was hoping to ask you in person to see if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation.

I was majoring in ABC and I am currently applying to CDF programs. I have submitted my application to University of 123. They said they need a letter of recommendation from my University 321 professor. If not they will likely to reject my application. They gave me a deadline to turn in this letter of recommendation by January 10th, 2015. Would you be willing to write me a letter of recommendation? I have my statement of purpose, transcripts, curriculum vita ready that I will be able to provide.

You are the best person to write me a letter because not only did I gotten an A+ in your XYZ class and you made great comments about my group project on WHATEVER, your class was also the class that raised my awareness in XXX. I have my statement of purpose, transcripts, curriculum vita ready, which I will be able to provide.

  • 3
    This question appears to be off-topic because it a request for proofreading, not a question about academia. – David Richerby Dec 12 '14 at 8:44
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    Note: professors don't like this. Just saying. – Quora Feans Dec 12 '14 at 13:19
  • Necroposting to highlight an important detail: setting explicit deadlines and doing this very prominent and in an explicit manner is essential for such short-termed issues. – Oleg Lobachev Feb 14 at 17:01
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This is totally fine, don't worry about it. I wouldn't "apologize for your presumptuous e-mail". You might apologize for the fact that you are asking them to write on short notice; I'd simply explain that you had solicited references from people who had interacted with you more recently, and schools to which you had applied had requested a reference from your undergraduate institution.

Also I think it's fine to ask by e-mail instead of in person.

I'm unclear about what your relationship is to your recommenders -- you say that you finished a bachelor's degree earlier; are you a student or an instructor at this community college? In any case, you want to get letters from the people who can attest to your ability to do demanding academic work in your chosen discipline. It sounds like you might have chosen your recommenders poorly (i.e., you have chosen people who will say in generic terms that you are a "good person and a hard worker", or perhaps you taught you easier classes than you took as an undergrad). I speculate that your file is very positive but lacks credible evidence that you will succeed in a graduate program. If this is the case, then the school that contacted you is doing you a big favor (they could have simply rejected you).

You should ask someone who, in addition to thinking highly of you, will know what it takes to succeed in a Ph.D. program and will be able to communicate this in his or her letter.

  • I was a student at a community college before I transferred out to a four-year university. I worked very closely with my professors while at community college and have maintained the relationships. That is why I chose them to be my letter writers. I was not close to any of my professors at the four-year I graduated that is why I did not ask any of them. The instructions on the website of the school that I am applying to only said to ask someone who can comment on my academic ability which in my opinion would be my professors at community college. – Miu Dec 12 '14 at 3:02
  • I understand that I should ask someone who think highly of me but unfortunately, I was not close enough with any of my professors at the four-year that I graduated for them to be able to write me a letter like that. I heard a generic letter will actually hurt the application, and that is also why I did not choose my professors at my 4-year to write my letters in the beginning. But now if the school that I am applying to is asking for it, I guess I have to ask for one without a choice. – Miu Dec 12 '14 at 3:05
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    My thoughts exactly. I started to write a comment: Please strike the word presumptuous. Your request is at worst inconvenient for the professor. If you really want to apologize, try, "I apologize for inconveniencing you," but move that to the end – don't lead off with it. Providing you didn't leave a bad impression, most professors are glad to hear that a former student is moving on with their education, and are glad to help. – J.R. Dec 12 '14 at 7:49
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I think either version will be fine. The professor will understand that grad school wants a letter from the institution you graduated from. One month notice is plenty. Throw in that you really enjoyed their class and apologize for the fact that you need the letter over break.

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    I agree with the part about throwing you that you really enjoyed their class (especially if the O.P. really did enjoy the class, and provided the O.P. isn't sending an identical email to every professor she had.) – J.R. Dec 12 '14 at 7:51

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