Sunday, February 10, 2019

Is it wrong to remind teacher about recommendation due?

Years ago, writing a letter of recommendation for a student applying to graduate school or for a fellowship required the student to call or mail a request to the prospective recommender, wait for a response, and then, if the prospective recommender agreed, the student would send a hard copy of the recommendation form along with a stamped and addressed envelope to the recommender through the postal service. Now, it's very rare for requests not to be made by email and recommendations not to be submitted through some online system, which alerts both the recommender and the recommended when the letter has been received.

No waiting for a form to arrive in the mail. No worry about whether the recommender actually sent the letter. No steps to the post office or mail box.

Yet, the process of requesting recommendation letters still seems fraught. As the days click down to the recommendation due date, it grows even more so.

It's fair to say that writing recommendations has become a significant part of many teachers' jobs. If the teacher truly believes he or she might not be the appropriate person to write one, he or she should let the student know. (I once had a student ask me to write a recommendation who decided not to write his final project because he figured he had good enough grades going into the final to get a C in the course. I reminded him and said he might want to reconsider who he asked.)

It's also fair for teachers to expect that students will give them plenty of time to write recommendations and not ask them on a Thursday morning to meet a 5 p.m. deadline the next day.

But a student's question that has been making its way around social media is how appropriate it is to remind a faculty member that today is the day all recommendation letters are due and that the online system shows the letter has yet to be uploaded.

When a teacher agrees to write a letter of recommendation by a specific deadline, the right thing is for him or her to do it. If there's a reason it would present a hardship to write the letter by the due date, he or she should decline the request from the get go.

But it's perfectly reasonable and appropriate for any student to remind recommenders that letters are due soon if they haven't been filed yet. Sometimes life gets in the way of keeping track. Sometimes teachers are a tad disorganized.

The best approach would be not to worry and wait too long, but to remind the recommender while there is still time to write a thoughtful letter.

"Thank you again for agreeing to write a letter on my behalf to Faber College," is not a bad way to begin. "The letter is due today by 5 p.m." If it's early enough in the day, perhaps add, "If I can provide you with any more information, please let me know."

There's nothing wrong with reminding someone, even a teacher, about an upcoming obligation. Even if you weren't hoping for a positive recommendation, the right thing is to do it as graciously and respectfully as possible. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How is this a moral or ethical dilemma?