I've applied to the University of ....... for fall 2016 graduate admission. The deadline for my references to submit the recommendation letters is December 01.

One of my references is currently extremely busy and has asked me to request the graduate administrator to contact him regarding the reference letter deadline.

I'm trying to think of some way to communicate this to the graduate administrator. Is the following e-mail alright?

Dear .......,
I am a Physics graduate applicant to the University of ....... for fall 2016
entry. My Application Number is ...........

One of my referees, Professor .......... from the University of .........., 
is currently under extenuating circumstances and will not be able to
complete my reference letter in time. He's asked me to contact you regarding
this urgent matter.

I would be grateful if you could contact him at his e-mail address
......@.......... , and also to kindly confirm if you have received this

Yours sincerely,

Does the e-mail look proper and ready to be sent?

  • 2
    Looks excellent.
    – Tom Church
    Nov 29, 2015 at 17:18
  • For me, your professor's behavior is strange. Reference letters do not take more than 30 minutes to write even if the student is a very special case... Nov 29, 2015 at 17:33
  • Are you sure you really mean "extenuating"? Nov 29, 2015 at 20:20

2 Answers 2


The letter looks fine. However, it seems strange that the professor would involve you to intercede on his behalf in asking for an extension. Surely he can't be that busy! (I disagree with phys_chem_prof on the amount of time needed to write a reference letter. I would estimate writing a convincing letter to take the better part of an afternoon.) Unless this letter is crucial and the grace period asked for is not more than a few days, you may be better off approaching some one else, even at this late date.

  • He is my thesis advisor and also holds a highly reputable position in my country's physics community, so I think it would be prudent to not approach anyone else, wouldn't you think?
    – user22613
    Nov 29, 2015 at 18:25
  • Also, if I may put it bluntly, he's got behavioural issues that are quite well known to all my peers. Would you consider this particular behaviour rude/offensive?
    – user22613
    Nov 29, 2015 at 18:27
  • Also, I sent him the invitation first time round on november 15, i sent a reminder three days ago, and called him today again as a reminder. Might that have put him off? (The deadline is on December 01 anyway.)
    – user22613
    Nov 29, 2015 at 18:35
  • @failexam. All the more reason to ask for a "fourth opinion" (or fifth or whatever). What are the chances that he will eventually come through for you? I don't know if you are familiar with the TV show "Big Bang Theory", but I would think the chances of getting a letter out of a Sheldon Cooper would be pretty small under the circumstances. Ask someone as a backup, but don't tell your thesis advisor you are cutting him out. That would be a bad idea. Nov 29, 2015 at 18:36
  • Probably because I do not spend more than 30 minutes per letter, I always send them out on time. :-) Recommendation letters are quite a conventional writing assigment in academe. I do not honestly understand why certain people perceive writing a recommendation letter a serious job which requires much time. The time your professor spent asking for clarification about the deadline and the time he/she will spend reading the university response is enough to type a page of nice text. Nov 29, 2015 at 22:07

One of my references is currently extremely busy and has asked me to request the graduate administrator to contact him regarding the reference letter deadline.

Do not email the department you're applying to -- that would be a waste of time, and would not put you in a good light.

Speak to your advisor (or write to him), saying that you need his advice about something.

Intimate that you contacted the department and were told that the deadline is hard and unyielding, and that the letter has to be submitted by him to the department -- they will not contact him to request the letter. Say that it's important to you to submit a complete application to this university, and that a recommendation from him would be the most meaningful letter that could be submitted, because he knows your work better than anyone else. Ask his advice. Should you write a rough draft for him, to enable him to submit the letter by the deadline? Would it be better to approach someone else, given that any letter that is received late will not be taken into account?

In other words, politely put the thumbscrews on the guy.

  • 3
    Lying to a recommender (intimating that you contacted the department when you didn't) is just plain stupid. Professors talk with our colleagues all the time. It's very easy to imagine this lie being exposed, and it brings no benefit to lie in this way.
    – Tom Church
    Nov 30, 2015 at 1:45
  • @TomChurch - Let me ask you this -- what do you predict will be the result if the OP writes to the department in the way that the advisor requested? Do you think the department will contact the advisor? Even if they do (and I personally give that a 0.01 % chance of occurring), will the advisor then submit the letter by the deadline? Or let's suppose that what the advisor had in mind was for the department to bend the deadline for him. What do you think are the chances of them doing that? And do you think that this way of requesting they bend the deadline is likely to be successful? Nov 30, 2015 at 1:51
  • 1
    @aparente001: What I imagine is that an administrative assistant will respond (to either the student or the recommender) with something like "Sorry, we can't offer an extended deadline, but we aren't likely to review this application immediately after the deadline. Please send the letter as soon as possible. If it arrives by the time we need it, that will be fine; otherwise it will hurt the applicant's chances." Of course it's not clear whether this will help. Nov 30, 2015 at 15:51

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