One of my professors this term promised to write me a recommendation letter for grad school. However, tomorrow is the deadline and her letter is not on the application website. She really liked me, so it's probably a case of her forgetting about/misremembering the deadline.

However, I can't reach her via e-mail, and she's the kind of person who puts absolutely no information online (phone, travel plans, etc). Perhaps she's on some sort of trip to a conference or something.

What can I do (with respect to the graduate programs I have applied to) to resolve this? Is there usually some sort of university policy regarding this situation? I really don't want to be unable to apply for grad school because a professor forgot to check her e-mail.

This situation is different from What can I do if a professor agreed to write a recommendation letter, but never sent it?, because in my situation the deadline has not yet passed.

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    Is your question "How to reach this professor?" or "How can you explain the situation to the graduate programs you applied to?" (See "Here's my situation, any suggestions?" is not an answerable question). If the latter, it appears to already be addressed in What can I do if a professor agreed to write a recommendation letter, but never sent it? and this question would be a duplicate.
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 22:03
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    It's the second situation, the difference being it wasn't "years ago", but "multiple times over the past few weeks" that the professor promised to write me a reference letter. She clearly just misremembered the deadline and went on doing something busy.
    – ithisa
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 22:04
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    @ff524: The most important difference in this question is that the deadline has not yet passed, and that the applicant has not yet been rejected. For instance, would it be worthwhile to contact the departments where they are applying and explain? They might be willing to wait a little longer. Or maybe a letter from the letter writer's department chair would be helpful? I don't know, but answers to this question could consider it. But those would not be relevant to the other question, in which those ships had long since sailed. Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 22:27
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    1. Call the school you are applying to, state that the prof who is supposed to give you the recommendation is out of her office and unreachable, and ask for a one-week/two-weeks extension of the deadline; 2. It's your responsibility to try to reach her. Did you talk to her department and find out when she is expected to be back? Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 22:31
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    I have contacted a close colleague of my professor, and he says that she's currently very busy, but will finish the letter just in time. Apparently, my professor has a bad habit of not looking at her e-mail frequently.
    – ithisa
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 22:53

1 Answer 1


I would try the following:

  • Contact the department(s) where you are applying, and ask them if they have received the letter. (It's possible that they have received it, but for some reason it has not yet been logged in their online system.) Explain that you would ask the professor herself but you cannot reach her.

  • If they say they have not received it, ask if they would be willing to keep your application under consideration, pending the arrival of the letter. I don't know if this will help, but it's worth a try.

  • Contact the professor's department chair and see if he/she knows anything about the professor's whereabouts. It is possible that something unusual has happened (e.g. she is in the hospital), in which case the chair may be able to write a note to the admission committee explaining the circumstances and asking for their patience.

  • If it seems that the letter may not be forthcoming within a few days, consider seeing if someone else can write you a letter. Be sure to explain to them the circumstances, so they understand that it is urgent for reasons beyond your control.

Hopefully someone who has been on an admission committee will add an answer saying how they normally handle such situations (which must be rather common).


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