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Quick background: I am applying to grad school and asked two professors from undergrad and a current work supervisor for letters of recommendation and they all said yes. I asked about a month and a half out from the due date, gave them all updated resumes/statement of purpose/any other information or paperwork they asked for. My supervisor got the letter finished rather quickly and sent me an email to let me know. About two weeks out from the application due date I sent a brief reminder/follow up email to my two professors ("just a reminder this is the due date, let me know if you need any more information" etc). Last week (about a week before the due date) one of the professors got back to me to let me know she had finished/submitted the letter. The due date for my application is in a few days and I have not heard from the second professor.

My question is: I have already sent an initial follow up email for a letter of recommendation. Is it considered rude or pestering to send a second email? I have no qualms on how to word this email - I will still be very polite and accommodating of course - but I understand professors are very busy. I don't want to be a bother but also I need this third letter of recommendation and this professor willingly agreed to help me. Is there a protocol for a second round of follow-ups for letters of recommendation?

  • Is there a way to walk by the seconds professors office? A short face-to-face moment both forces the second professor to give some kind of response and gives an indication how he/she feels about the letter. – dimpol Nov 14 '16 at 14:43
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    Do you have a phone number of the professor? – dimpol Nov 14 '16 at 14:50
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    @dimpol: For some faculty, repeated emails would be less intrusive than a phone call or a personal visit. Moreover, if the OP talks to the professor "live" then s/he can find out whether the letter has been written yet, but s/he still may need to check in later to make sure the letter gets written eventually. – Pete L. Clark Nov 14 '16 at 15:01
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    I was in a very similar position in the year after my undergrad degree: I'd graduated and was up against a deadline and one of my professors hadn't written their letter yet. I sent an email but nothing happened. In spite of feeling extremely shy and awkward, I gave the professor a phone-call and they were really relieved that I hadn't let their task disappear into the cracks. They sent in my letter the next day. I would not have gotten into grad-school if I hadn't done this. – trikeprof Nov 14 '16 at 15:26
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    thank you for all the responses, it hadn't even crossed my mind that calling was an option - I'm so used to corresponding with professors via email. Considering the answer below I'm thinking sending a second email would be a good option right now. – jaytea123 Nov 14 '16 at 15:45
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No, it will probably not be considered rude to repeatedly ask for a letter. The professor agreed to write the letter and clearly understands what it is and why you need it. If it is a few days before the due date, they haven't turned in the letter and they haven't responded to your last email, they evidently need the repeated reminders. I honestly think it is more likely that they will be sincerely grateful that you are helping them to complete a task they agreed to do than that they would be even a little bit annoyed with you. But if they do get a little bit annoyed with you -- okay, maybe that's what helps them write the letter. It would be highly unprofessional to respond to this kind of behavior from a student by writing a worse letter or not writing it at all, and I honestly don't know of any professors who would behave in that way.

Finally, let me say: faculty turning in letters late is such a common thing that in many circles at least there is a de facto grace period for faculty to turn in letters which is up to a week or two after the actual, posted application deadline. As a student it is hard for your mind to really be eased by knowing this, I expect, but it helps to understand the faculty mentality: if I turn in a letter two days after a deadline, I would actually be annoyed if it were not considered. (And I would know it was my own damned fault, but I would be annoyed anyway.)

Good luck, and keep at them.

  • I was not aware of the de facto grace period, but that does actually offer some relief. Coincidentally I just received an email back from the graduate admissions office of the school I'm applying to and they mentioned something similar - the application itself has a hard deadline but there is a grace period for the supplementary paperwork to be turned in. I will still get in contact with this professor of course, but I am relieved that there is some leniency about the recommendation letter deadline. – jaytea123 Nov 14 '16 at 15:30

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