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Unreliability of Recommenders - PLEASE READ, need advice


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I've been wanting to tear my hair out lately. That, or punch a hole in the wall. I have asked for letters of recommendation from about 7 different people (for 3 letters) and all of them - every last one of them - has been a disappointment. Initially they agreed with enthusiasm but have been absolutely terrible at following through. One cancelled on me last minute, another continually lags and keeps telling me he'll have it in by "the end of the week" (and guess what? it never is. This has been going on for 2 months) and others have pulled complete Houdinis and just vanished.

 

I'm beginning to feel like I'm becoming a pain in these people's asses because I keep sending friendly reminders (only 2 actually, one a month), to no avail. I've even written extensive templates for them to follow to make it literally as easy as possible, but even that won't do. For some reason people keep dropping off or not returning emails. I understand that they're busy, but I am actually shocked at how 7 different people can be so unprofessional. Keep in mind, I asked for recommendations back in the beginning of November and gave them a month. After 2, many of them are still unresponsive.

 

Which leads me to my question - my first round of deadlines is on Feburary 1st and I have practically exhausted all of my resources (I mean I only worked for so many people - I only recently graduated college back in May.) I have a handful of professors where I made an As in their classes ... however, their classes have absolutely nothing to do with the programs I am applying to. I am desperate at this point and want to at least ask, but I don't know if the irrelevency will be off-putting to some schools.

 

Should I go ahead and do it anyway? Do you guys have any advice on what to do about the other recommenders? Unfortunately I can't just "give up" on them - I'm in too deep already and time is running out. If they all screw me over, however (and I wouldn't be surprised with their track record), I am going to be extremely upset.

Edited by hopeful80
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First, take a deep breath and know that it will be ok. Second, this is pretty common... unfortuneately :(

 

My last recommender barely submitted my recs and my deadlines were LAST MONTH. lol Luckily, my committees have not yet met and it really doesnt matter.

 

If you take a quick glance at any of the LOR threads you'll see that you are in very good company. That being said, you still have a month. This is good!! Two things- Most professors are busy (as you noted) especially right before and during the holidays. Also, they are pretty well intentioned. I believe that if they didnt want to write you those letters that they would have said so.

 

Gentle reminders are helpful too. You can send a quick little chart with your next email and send something with the subject line like: Approaching deadlines. But as you will see, professors like to submit these letters right at the last second. I think you learn it in professor school- How to give your students a heart attack 101. lol Good luck!!!!!!!

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Thank you love! I had a minor freak out moment but someone finally got back to me - it wasn't my top choice for a rec but it's something ~phew.

 

The thing is a lot of these people aren't even my professors! They're previous employers. I suppose I'll have to just keep my fingers crossed though.

 

Do you think if professors don't want to write me a letter (all of my employers agreed) they would at least tell me or just ignore me :(

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I know it's really frustrating but I wouldn't worry too much yet.

 

Your deadlines are Feb 1, yet you asked for your LORs to be in by Dec 1? I actually think that's pretty unreasonable!! It's great that you asked your recommenders back in Nov for deadlines of Feb 1 and later. But in my experience, it is NOT the norm for profs to submit letters *two months* ahead of the deadline! I'm assuming that you registered your profs to submit the letters through the application's online system, which would have sent them the email with instructions on how to submit the LOR and tell them the deadline. I would assume that, being busy profs, something with a deadline 2+ months away is not a priority. Most profs also do not appreciate having their timeline dictated by others, especially not their students! They know when the deadline is, trust them to stick to it.

 

In my experience, profs will usually submit their letters within the last few days of the deadline, if not on the deadline itself. So I wouldn't worry yet, but it would probably be a good idea to use the application's built-in reminder function (so that there will be a link to the LOR submission forms) about 2 weeks before the deadline and again a few days before the deadline.

 

Good luck!

 

Edit: While typing the above, I didn't see the OP's most recent post. Are you saying that all 7 of the people you asked are former employers, not professors? If so, I'll assume that you have good reasons for using LORs from non-faculty members (I don't even know what your field or what your work was)! So I guess my paragraphs above don't really apply here.

Edited by TakeruK
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TakeruK - My situation is unique because I have a business undergraduate degree and wish to go a completely different route with my career now (Writing). I worked for a few publications and a few companies where I worte and rewrote copy so I thought they might be better suited to comment on my writing skills.

 

Of the people I asked, about 5 were employers and 2 were professors. One professor initially said yes, then emailed me earlier this month all of a sudden saying she could no longer write me a recommendation because of personal reasons, which made my heart sink because I excelled in her classes, as they were more writing-heavy. The other just flat out didn't respond.

 

Also another reason why I asked for December (around Dec 15, not the 1st) was because some of the early decision deadlines were in January. But I have already missed those now.

 

Honestly I don't think it's too unreasonable to give people a month to write recommendations ... that's plenty of time, especially since I provide them templates. I like to stay ahead of everything and I especially don't want to get to a point where I continue to let it slide and then nobody has submitted a week before it's due! But that's just me ...

Edited by hopeful80
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Just my 2 cents: 

 

LORs always take awhile and generally, there's always one you have to "chase". I had one professor tell me up front that I WILL have to NAG him for it, not because he doesn't want to do it but because he's really scatter-brained. So I did. And I got my LOR. 

 

It's a process that's frustrating but we just have to get used to it. If you plan on staying in academia, count on going through this frustration again... and again... and again.. :) 

 

Also, one month is OK.. but I usually give 2 or 3 months notice - once I know the deadline for what I'm applying for and then I make sure I get ALL the necessary documents to the professors. When it gets closer to the date, say a month before I send an email to check in, make sure they still have everything and I'm not adverse to popping into their office the week before to leave a visual reminder. 

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You aren't contacting them enough! Two e-mails over two months won't even penetrate the haze of day to day life. You should  be sending friendly reminders every two weeks, and with two weeks to go call each of them and leave a message or speak with them. Snail mail can also be a good way to go, because then there is a physical reminder that your recommenders can pin to the bulletin board or tape to their monitor. It is perfectly possible to give gentle, friendly reminders without nagging.

Edited by Usmivka
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Yep ^ this is all true. One month notice is actually kindaaaaaa short. It's in the OK range. 2-3 months is about right. I've had to show up in people's office, stop by events that I knew where they would be, bring up the app process randomly just to keep it on their brain (omgggg ... i sound like a stalker in a LIfetime movie :o )

As headcold has noted, it's a super frustrating process but this is the way it is.... sadly.

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TakeruK - My situation is unique because I have a business undergraduate degree and wish to go a completely different route with my career now (Writing). I worked for a few publications and a few companies where I worte and rewrote copy so I thought they might be better suited to comment on my writing skills.

 

Of the people I asked, about 5 were employers and 2 were professors. One professor initially said yes, then emailed me earlier this month all of a sudden saying she could no longer write me a recommendation because of personal reasons, which made my heart sink because I excelled in her classes, as they were more writing-heavy. The other just flat out didn't respond.

 

Also another reason why I asked for December (around Dec 15, not the 1st) was because some of the early decision deadlines were in January. But I have already missed those now.

 

Honestly I don't think it's too unreasonable to give people a month to write recommendations ... that's plenty of time, especially since I provide them templates. I like to stay ahead of everything and I especially don't want to get to a point where I continue to let it slide and then nobody has submitted a week before it's due! But that's just me ...

 

Thanks for clarifying, but you didn't have to :) I wasn't trying to accuse you of making the wrong choices for LORs or whatever. Sorry to hear about your January deadlines though :(

 

I agree, 1 month is the perfect time for a LOR notice. I had thought you were giving them 3 months (notifying in Nov, but not due until Feb) and I wanted to point out that most busy people will tend to de-prioritize things that won't take a lot of time (e.g. a LOR) and aren't due for months (especially after the "hump" of end-of-fall-term).

 

Hope you will get your letters for February deadlines!!

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It may be a blessing in disguise that you are asking so many people...those without the time may have written non-stellar recs. And I think some professors actually bristle at being provided with a template? A large part of their job is to write recommendations. (I realize your business people may appreciate the template more.)

I think that perhaps if so many people are blowing you off that you might not have had such a close relationship with them in the first place. Also: remember that it was the holidays and people might just be getting back to thinking about serious work things starting now. Most of my LORs turned their letters in on the day of the deadline...remember that your concept of time is not necessarily universal and trust the people that you asked to want you to succeed.

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Thanks for your responses everyone! One of my recommenders got back to me and was pretty amazing, he sent them all in very quickly so I'm thankful for him.

 

Usmivka - I'm surprised at this! I thought contacting them every two weeks is a little much, especially since they're doing you a favor, you know? And if they hear from you every 2 weeks they'll get pissed off/annoyed and not want to write it for you at all. I don't know, is it reasonable, though? At this point I am kind of desperate ...

 

Otherwise ... yep, nothing's changed. And admittedly I wasn't the best student in school and was closer to my work supervisors :( I was about to get a recommendation from one of my professors who knew me the most (she agreed immediately), but she was the one who had to cancel suddenly last minute for personal reasons. Otherwise, many of my professors barely knew me. I know it may look kind of bad that I don't have many professors to ask, but I'm not sure what else to do...

 

I guess at this point i just have to wait. Yesterday I sent "friendly" email reminders, and if it comes down to the final thread I'll have to send them a more urgent email reminder a week before Feb 1.

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Also just in case - if worse comes to worse and people really aren't submitting their recommendations in time and they really DO end up screwing me over ...

 

Will the University be completely unsympathetic and reject you automatically? Because I feel like that's really not fair.

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Also just in case - if worse comes to worse and people really aren't submitting their recommendations in time and they really DO end up screwing me over ...

 

Will the University be completely unsympathetic and reject you automatically? Because I feel like that's really not fair.

 

Yes, they will. Unfair as it is, it means your application is incomplete. With that said, I have been told that schools actually give the recommenders a few extra days to get in LORs. I've never "let" it get that far. I'm not willing to risk it. 

 

You mentioned that LORs are favors... I would have to disagree to a certain degree. While professors are not obligated to write you an LOR, they are ethically bound to treat you with professionalism and if one has agreed to write you an LOR and fails to do so despite being provided ample time and all necessary documents, then he/she has behaved unprofessionally and you can be legitimately upset about it. 

 

Professors need LORs from each other too for fellowships/grants etc that they need to do research so this is not something they do just for students. Writing LORs (good and bad) is part of the profession and so they aren't wholly social "favors"... 

 

I'm not advocating going off on some temper tantrum or being demanding, but you can be persistent without being insistent. 

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Keep your head up. Like I said, my last writer sent in their letters an entire MONTH late. As long as those letters come in before they meet, it's pretty muck "ok." Also, I've heard of cases of schools calling letter writers to ask for their recs over the phone and then asking them to submit them (for the formality of having a complete app) so that they can accept you. While I've also heard of places outright rejecting someone on an incomplete app, let's hope that the professors come through at the last minute so you don't even have to worry about this. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you. I know that this is not fun. 

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Yes, they will. Unfair as it is, it means your application is incomplete. With that said, I have been told that schools actually give the recommenders a few extra days to get in LORs. I've never "let" it get that far. I'm not willing to risk it. 

 

You mentioned that LORs are favors... I would have to disagree to a certain degree. While professors are not obligated to write you an LOR, they are ethically bound to treat you with professionalism and if one has agreed to write you an LOR and fails to do so despite being provided ample time and all necessary documents, then he/she has behaved unprofessionally and you can be legitimately upset about it. 

 

Professors need LORs from each other too for fellowships/grants etc that they need to do research so this is not something they do just for students. Writing LORs (good and bad) is part of the profession and so they aren't wholly social "favors"... 

 

I'm not advocating going off on some temper tantrum or being demanding, but you can be persistent without being insistent. 

 

Thanks headcold. I feel the same way. Today 2 of my recommenders miraculously came through (bless their souls), but the third one is still driving me absolutely insane with his disappearing act. I have a more casual relationship with him so I can text and call and skype him, but I'm backing off lately to give him some space ... but if it's late January and he still doesn't come around, I'll have to drum up the pressing one more time ...

 

I just hate having to beg, practically.

Edited by hopeful80
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I have an application to Harvard which is due on Tuesday evening and this one Prof has not replied to any of my reminders, or emails. My other two recommenders came through and wrote some great stuff. I wish I had the forethought to ask another prof to write a recommendation just in case. I suppose it will be lesson I'll carry with me to the 2014 application cycle :(

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Thanks for the good luck guys! I'm gonna need it. One of my recommenders is still not coming through. Deadline is in 2 weeks. If he's pushing this down to the final wire, the week before I think I'm going to need to be a little more persistent than I am now (right now i'm trying not to be that annoying pain in his side, even though every F-ing day I want to pin him down and scream at him. He's had 2.5 MONTHS.)

 

I have an application to Harvard which is due on Tuesday evening and this one Prof has not replied to any of my reminders, or emails. My other two recommenders came through and wrote some great stuff. I wish I had the forethought to ask another prof to write a recommendation just in case. I suppose it will be lesson I'll carry with me to the 2014 application cycle :(

 

I am SO SORRY that you had to deal with this. I understand exactly how you feel and you have every right to be upset. Have you considered emailing the school and explaining your situation, then asking if you can submit a back up one? I might do that with mine. I would hope schools are somewhat sympathetic to these types of situations. It's extremely unfair for us as applications to have our entire chances ruined because other people do not follow through with their commitments. I said this before before, but this is the one aspect of the application that is entirely out of our control, which is why I think it tends to drive some people (self included) particularly bonkers.

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Well, I got an email at the last moment. I think things will be fine. It will be submitted late by my prof with the school's permission :) In this case, it seems that schools are willing to extend their deadlines should you contact them.

Edited by unacclimated
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I think you've gotten some really great advice in this forum.  The only thing that stuck out to me was that someone criticized your Dec.1st self-imposed deadline for LOR's -- I think that is perfectly reasonable with a Feb.1st application deadline.  You never know if any emergencies will arise with your recommenders, or with you.  My professors actually asked me to start sending them recommendation links or forms in August/September because they knew they would have quite a few to write.  The university admissions committee heads advised getting your LOR's in early as well, because it takes one more thing off the table as far as your application file being complete.  Kudos to you for being on top of it.  Not all recommenders are alike in the aspect of actually DOING the LOR, which is very frustrating.  Stay on top of them, and don't be afraid to write an email and say "My application deadlines are coming up in a matter of two weeks and I'm beginning to get worried about the completion of the recommendations.  Have you received the links or forms, and is there anything I can do to help?"  (Or something kind like that).  :-)

 

Best of luck to you! 

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Something VERY Similar happened to me. It sucks to have unprofessional people, some actually pretending to be professional! My ASSOCIATE DEAN promised me a really good recommendation, saying 'If I don't give you a reco, then no body in the world deserves one!' and stuff like that (I had just finished pubishing 3 papers for her). I was REALLY happy, put her down as a reference in 3 applications. A month went by, she didn't send them in. I called her around 400 times (the actual count on my phone says 437), texted her a hundred times, mailed her 23 times and offered to visit her any time she's free. No reply for ANY of these. I called her from other numbers, she used to pick up. After hearing that it was me, she'd immediately say that she was busy, or outside, and that she'll call me back later and would cut the call. I got no return call, obviously. I got rejects from all those universities and then had to hunt for another recommender, who I found with a LOT of difficulty. However, I had lost the only Doctorate & senior professors recommending me. 

 

People should either say Ok and do it immediately or just plainly say no. In your case, you've gotten pretty lucky that someone cared to mail back, even if it was late. Looking for alternatives is the only other solution. My suggestion for the next time (hopefully you'll not have a next time!), have 3 main referees and then ask 2 more people if they can recommend you when necessary - for a backup. All the best for this year and hope you get into the college of your preference! :)

Edited by Ohm
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People should either say Ok and do it immediately or just plainly say no. 

 

While I sympathize with the frustration - having gone through it and mind you, still AM going through it since I'm applying for other grants/fellowships - I think it's a bit harsh to expect an immediate letter. It does take time to write one and these are still professional people with busy lives. Keep in mind they are still teaching, doing research, returning emails to other people and so on. Giving a recommender 2 or 3 months time to submit a letter is very generous, 1 month is still good - PROVIDED that the person asking for letter also gives the recommender all the material he or she needs to write a letter. You can't just ask for one and then leave it at that; you have to provide your recommenders with your CV, with a copy of your personal statement, your research ideas so they can say something about you, more than "Yes, he/she was a good student in my class" or "he/she is a hard worker". 

 

Of course, in some cases, some recommenders display disturbing unprofessionalism but, quite simply there is nothing you can do about people like that. They will be every where. CYA and make sure you ask a LOT of people; then you give yourself a bit of peace of mind. If you can ask one, why not 2 or 3 or 4. The worst thing someone will say is No. 

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Hey guys, thank you for all of your responses ... I see that I'm not alone in this, and Ohn, I cannot BELIEVE that happened to you. Seriously, WHAT? That's just pure rotten and completely unprofessional. I'm really sorry. I can definitely feel your pain, though in a little bit of a different way.

 

I suppose I'll ask now - Since beginning this graduate school process, the quality of my recommendations has seriously gone down, to be honest. I started off with one senior professor (my favorite in college, the only one I spoke to really), a former boss who could speak very highly of my writing capabilities, and another former boss from an internship in 2011 who was a marketing director. To me, this seemed like the perfect combination.

 

Then everything went awry.

 

One day out of nowhere last minute, my professor emailed me and backed out of writing a recommendation for personal reasons. I understood her dilemma and it was hard to get angry at her, but it was admittedly extremely unprofessional of her. The biggest problem I am having now is with my former boss who could speak to my writing abilities - I gave him ALL the materials he needed and plenty of time. I also helped him heavily with this process. He even told me he was finished when I managed to catch hold of him one day, but is seriously delaying turning it in for some reason. All he has to do is literally copy/paste it and he can't find 5 minutes out of his day to do that. He has had 2.5 months to do this now. It's already the 16th and I've stressed the importance of the Feb 1. deadline ... but won't be surprised if he misses the deadline entirely. I get the feeling he's becoming hostile and resentful towards talking to me, even though I space out my time following up with him by weeks (... why did you agree to do this in the first place then?) He is the one I am most furious with and ... to put in HeadCold's words ... without question is the very definition of "disturbing unprofessionalism."

 

That's two out of three gone due to unreliability. I had to find other resources. I asked another professor, but she said she couldn't write me a very thorough one because she didn't know me very well. So I went to another boss I interned with in 2010, and he submitted one but forgot about the rest - then started ignoring my emails. Everything started to turn into a mess. I was asking 5 different people for 10 different schools and had to kept asking because people kept dropping like flies. Thankfully my marketing boss came through but I still needed one more.

 

This is when I started REALLY scraping. I asked a previous director/mentor for a leadership camp I attended and maintained a relationship with for several years. He works for a school as associate director of student affairs. He's delaying a little bit, but he's a good guy and I trust he'll get it in by Feb 1. Fearing that my writing boss wouldn't come through (Why do I keep clinging on? Because he is arguably my most important one in that I'm applying to professional writing programs ...) I had to ask my extreme backup, a mentor who I worked casually for on-and-off growing up - a finance director at a major non-profit organization.

 

So now my line up is (if the other one doesn't come through) - one marketing director, one associate director of student affairs, one finance director. None of which have anything to do with writing. No professors.

 

If anyone has any insight, do you seriously think this will harm my chances of getting in? My professor really did put me at a huge disadvantage, and I can't ask very many other ones because frankly, they really didn't know me. I'm just beginning to get worried my application is weakening every day. I barely have a 3.0 GPA (3.6 for my major), lower GRE scores (but high AWA) ... and now, scattered recommendations.

 

I wish schools knew that not everyone applying to grad school was a star pupil in college or an expert at maintaining relationships with influential people. And I wish they had an inkling of an idea of how unfortunate it is when people give students their word in giving recommendations, then repeatedly screw them over. I have only so many resources to exhaust. It's already down to the wire for me.

 

I pray to God my writing samples and essays will be the tipping point in acceptance.

Edited by hopeful80
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The lack of action on the recommenders part has driven me to screaming in my car. I've already been rejected from everywhere twice, and I had all my applications finished a month ahead of time, to give my recommenders the maximum time. I've had countless meetings in person with the last one, as well as emails, and they are already 2 weeks overdue for 3 schools, and 1 day overdue for 1 school. I am seeking therapy because, let me tell you, living in the Groundhog Day-style of life for the past two years has been mentally taxing. I used to be so much happier 3 years ago.

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