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I am finishing up a MA in Global Affairs, and I am in the process of applying to several doctoral programs. Two and a half weeks ago, I asked three of my professors if they would recommend me. I made sure to note in my emails to them that if they chose to support me, one of the program deadlines was substantially sooner than the others. Two responded positively almost immediately, but one did not. However, he has encouraged me on numerous occasions to apply, and speaks very highly of me. Needless to say, I was very surprised when he responded 5 days before the first deadline to say that he was not prepared to recommend me. He said that he normally only write recommendations for students who have served as his GA, and that if I want him to write one for me I have to draft the letter I expect him to write. I said I could do that... but would we be able to do this in time for the upcoming deadline? He said no, and there was no way I could ask someone else with such short notice.

However, I really do not know what I should say to the other people who recommended me. I know they have already submitted their letters. Do I say that I simply couldn't get my act together in time, and risk looking unprepared? Do I tell them that one of my recommendations fell through, and look like I must have done something to change that person's mind? Do I tell the full story, and look like I am just trying to place blame elsewhere? Or, do I just not tell them at all? They all know each other, so they could find out even if I don't say anything. None of the options seems great, and I am kind of at a loss.

Edit to add (taken from comment): My main concern is that asking someone else to submit something last minute or late might not be appropriate.

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Get another letter. Grad app deadlines are many times not as strict for letters as they are for your application materials.

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and there was no way I could ask someone else with such short notice.

This may be the conclusion of your analysis but in my opinion it doesn't hurt if you'd actually try to contact another potential referee. I agree with Prof. Jose. F. Martinez in his answer and I would like to add that this should not be your only reason for not applying. I think your questions reflects concerns in the not so near future that you can actually try to find another person for the recommendation.

  • Actually, I am not at all concerned about never being able to find another person to recommend me. I have another academic reference who has agreed to write letters for applications that are at a later deadline. My concern was that asking them to submit something last minute or late would not be appropriate. – lauren31428 Dec 5 '15 at 21:13
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    @lauren31428 Well, I must say this is not at all clear from the OP. there was no way I could ask someone else with such short notice, I either misinterpreted it or the subsequent questions followed couldn't communicate the above mentioned concern properly. Either way, in my opinion I don't think there is anything inappropriate in asking a new potential referee on a relatively short notice such as this given the premise that it is not at all your fault. I would explain why if I were you. – Sathyam Dec 5 '15 at 21:48
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    As I said, it is likely that that third reference, if submitted a bit late to the institution in question, will be taken. (In any case you lose nothing by trying.) – profmartinez Dec 6 '15 at 1:12

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