I'm currently applying for an intensive language program, and I've taken courses with a professor whose letter of recommendation would likely carry a lot of weight– he speaks the language fluently, and has spent years studying the country. His course is also the only one I've taken that is directly relevant to the language program I'm applying to.

However, I'm not sure if it would be appropriate to ask him for a letter of recommendation. In the first course I took with him, I did relatively well; I got all As on my assignments, but I rarely spoke with him, and never really stood out.

The second course I took with him (the one that's relevant to my language program) is what worries me. During that semester, I had a family emergency/mental health problems, and, after multiple meetings with this professor, I ended up receiving a G grade in the course (meaning that I have to submit the coursework I missed by the end of this year). He's seen my outlines for the essays I owe him, and he's admitted that they're pretty much perfect– but I haven't submitted any actual essays. However, we've spoken at length about my family emergency/mental health issues, and we've grown somewhat close (he also has had some experience with mental health issues). I feel like he understands why my work ethic suffered, and doesn't seem to hold my delayed coursework against me.

So, my question is: should I ask him for a letter of recommendation? I feel like his recommendation would go a long way on the application, but only if his recommendation is actually a strong one. Despite his understanding of my personal circumstances, I'm not sure if my coursework has been good enough for him to feel comfortable giving me a glowing recommendation. I also don't want him to feel pressured (out of, I don't know, pity for my situation) to give me a recommendation letter. Any advice?

  • 1
    From what you are saying it seems like you are close. I would just ask him. Tell him that you understand that your situation was complicated and ask him if he'd be able to write you a strong letter of recommendation. Just don't pressure him to do it as this could back fire. Mar 16, 2016 at 23:02
  • 6
    "I haven't submitted any actual essays" ... Do that now! It would probably be very difficult to write a strong recommendation for someone who was given a chance to submit late work and still hasn't done it.
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 12, 2017 at 11:52

3 Answers 3


I've had students ask me for letters with some wording along the lines of "if you feel you can write me a strong letter." From what you've said, it makes sense asking him for a letter, but you might consider this approach:

First let him know that you're interested in this program and see what he thinks about it. If he's very supportive of the idea, then you should have nothing to worry about asking for a letter. If he's not, you could ask for other suggestions. (And even if he thinks it's a good idea, he may suggest some other other opportunities as well.)


You can always request for a letter of recommendation from any academic you interacted with while studying.

If you don't have any other choice I recommend to ask the professor about the recommendation letter. If you don't feel comfortable with him/her and you have other academics to ask for the recommendation letter, then you cannot skip asking this professor as you are not 100% sure about his/her feedback.

  • It might be misleading to say "right", since this might give the impression that one can demand letters of recommendation, rather than request... as it actually works in the U.S. Also, did you mean to say that the questioner can skip that prof, if they don't feel comfortable and have others to ask? Mar 15, 2016 at 21:39
  • "cannot" -> "can"?
    – Wildcard
    Mar 16, 2016 at 0:08
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    The golden rule is asking "can you write me a good letter of reccomendation"? If he says yes, he probably will. If he says "I'm not sure what I could say", then try to find someone else.
    – Nate 8
    Mar 16, 2016 at 0:50

Sounds like you're not 100% confident in his ability to write a glowing recommendation in which case I would ask someone else, who you have a closer relationship with, to write the letter or forego it altogether. Especially if you rarely spoke, never jumped through flaming hoops while suspended 100 feet in the air on a trapeze or did anything else that stood out. In that case, your request comes out of the blue and then the pressure is on him to figure out what to say about a student he doesn't know much about.

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