My application officially ended on Dec 1, but the admission offices are still accepting recommendation letters. One of my professor just finished the letters recently, but there are two letters were not submitted. My professor insisted he has finished all the letters and he won't have time for this until Dec 15 because he is applying for an important grant that concerns the survival of his lab. Although the office are still accepting letters, I fear Dec 15 may be too late to submit the letters. What should I do ? Should I prompt my professor at the risk of irritating him ?

He is very busy, and that's also why he did not start writing the letters until the deadline after I called him. I always wrote very kind letters, and he was a very nice person, but I don't want to be bothersome and force the professor to prioritize my needs before his own. The grant is definitely much more important to him, and he promised to write the letters simply out of kindness.

  • Was the professor aware of the deadline when he offered to write you the letter? How much notice was he given?
    – Byte Lab
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 6:11
  • Can you ask the admissions offices what the deadline is for recommendation letters?
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 6:25
  • No, the professors was not aware of the deadlines when he promised to write me the letters. I only notify him about the deadline on Nov. 26, and then reminders on Nov. 30. I will ask the admission office when the deadline is for the recommendation letters.
    – Vespa
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:00
  • 1
    When I was applying to grad school I gave the professors I asked for recommendations the deadline for application. When I was a faculty member, my rule of thumb was if I agreed to write a letter, that letter went to the top of my priority list, regardless of how busy I was. I viewed it as my professional obligation to follow through on my promise. Commented Apr 17, 2022 at 23:59

1 Answer 1


First of all, find out if December 15th is too late to send the letters. If it's not too late, then you don't have a problem as long as the professor writes you a letter when he has more time.

Assuming the 15th is too late: Was the professor aware of the deadline when he offered to write you the letter? Did he have sufficient time to write the letter (I always erred on the side of at least a month, if not two)? If so, then he has a very real obligation to fulfill that promise. Writing letters of recommendation is not a favor that professors do for their students, it is a key part of their jobs as academics. Letters of recommendation is one of the key metrics by which institutions determine who they should accept. They help shape the landscape of the research community that the professors themselves are a part of. It is unfortunate for the professor that he has to spend a lot of his time writing a grant proposal to save his lab, but that does not excuse him from his other responsibilities.

Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should poke the professor every day and/or try to force the professor to write you the letter. Though he is the one at fault for failing to provide you the service that he should, you are likely the one who will suffer; either by not having a letter of recommendation, or having a haphazardly written letter that lacks attention to detail and fails to highlight your skills as a researcher. Normally I would tell you to find someone else to write you the letter, but given that you're out of time, I think your only option is to respectfully remind the professor that this is extremely important for your career, and that you require his letter of recommendation in order for your application to be considered valid. If he refuses to write it, then I would honestly consider that an ethical violation and encourage you to bring it up with your dean.

However, if you gave the professor 2 weeks notice to write the letter and/or did not make him aware of the deadline, then it may be hard to "force" him to fulfill his obligation as you did not perform your due diligence in lining up your letters early. That being said, most institutions have deadlines in December so I would assume that the professor was aware of the general timeline of when the recommendation would be due.

  • 1
    Thank you for your thoughtful suggestions. I believed the professor has finished writing the recommendation letters. He might just missed the send button because he said he has finished. I invited him to write me the letter around a month before the deadlines. It was partially my fault that I didn't remind him earlier when he was not that busy, but I was always afraid of irritating him.
    – Vespa
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 12:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .