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Do I let the back up know they're the back up?

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So I'm in a bit of a rut here. Had three recommenders, but tale as old as time, one of them has flaked approx 2 weeks from the deadline. I don't really have anyone else that I'm super comfortable with asking, but my other two recommenders know me/my work pretty well and will write strong letters so idc if this third letter is weak.

But that being said, for the one professor I'm thinking about asking, how do I explain to her that a need a letter by Feb 7? Actually my deadlines are Feb 1 and Feb 7, but for the Feb 1 school I'm thinking about asking for an extension. Anyhow, do I let her know that the reason I'm contacting her twoish weeks in advance is because the other guy flaked? I want to explain my circumstances because I'm giving her such a terrible deadline, but I feel like that gives the impression that she's my last choice and I don't really value her recommendation (I mean she is my last choice but you gotta do what you gotta do)

On the other hand if I approach her brand new without explaining anything then it looks really unprofessional to ask for a letter on such short notice.

What would you do?


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OH ALSO I was thinking about using the "I just learned about these programs now" excuse but I feel like that's pretty fishy considering I'll be asking her for letters to three schools (the two Feb deadlines and one rolling admissions with no strict deadline). Like oh, you REALLY just found THREE programs at the last minute? Don't think it'll fly. So any other suggestions will be greatly appreciated.


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If I were you, I would choose to just be honest. The reality is that a professor has let you down and it is not your fault. I really doubt the new recommender would read that far into it so as to think you are implying she is some last choice. Professors interact with recommendations from a far less grand scale -- many of them write them every season in significant number and while they care, it's less massive than from the applicant perspective -- and they are aware students need to make sometimes arbitrary decisions around whom they ask, and hopefully she sympathizes with your bind. I'd say something along the lines of:

"In the interest of being forthcoming, I had a professor agree in MONTH to write this letter who is now entirely unreachable and so I am now a bit stuck. Typically I would never ask for a recommendation on such short notice, and I so apologize for this, but it is looking like my only choice. I would really value a recommendation from you for x, y reasons, and if you are able to swing it, it would mean the world to me. If however for any reason you are unable to, I completely understand."

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