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When is it too late to ask for a letter of recommendation?

When is it too late to ask for a letter of recommendation?

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Whether you’re filling out an application for a job, college, graduate school or almost any other endeavor, you might need to include letters of recommendation.

This can be stressful even in the best circumstances. You might be unsure of who to ask, worried that’s a lot of trouble for them or even wondering how much time they need.

Professors, teachers, managers and others in a similar position are used to being asked to write these types of letters, so you don’t need to worry that the request is a rude one.

However, you do need to give them ample time, and if you don’t, you’d better have a good reason!

Keep reading to find out how late is too late to ask and what to do if you run out of time.

When is it too late to ask for a letter of recommendation?

Ideally, you should ask for a letter of recommendation at least four weeks before the due date, with two weeks as the absolute minimum. However, if there are extenuating circumstances and you have a good relationship with the person you are asking, it’s okay to ask with less than two weeks’ notice.

Why do people need several weeks to write a letter of recommendation?

Even if you’re grateful to someone for writing you a letter of recommendation, you might wonder why they need a lot of advance notice.

After all, you might think, surely it only takes an hour or so at most to write this letter. Can’t they just squeeze you in?

What you have to remember is that the person might have a lot of letters of recommendation to write.

This is particularly true if the person is a teacher or professor and it is at the time in the school year when a lot of applications are due.

If the teacher or professor is a popular one, you could be one of dozens of students who are asking for such a letter.

In addition, you don’t want the person to have to rush through the letter. A rushed letter is more likely to sound generic.

When should you ask for a letter of recommendation?

Most people agree that two to four weeks is the standard minimum amount of time you should give a person to write you a letter of recommendation.

To be on the safe side, you should give them at least four weeks, and if you can give them more time, you should.

While it might seem like giving them months of advance notice is a good idea, this could be a little bit awkward if they aren’t planning to get to it right away.

If you ask too far in advance, you might end up stressed out about whether they are going to forget, and you’ll probably need to write a letter of recommendation reminder to them at some point just to make sure that neither of you has an unpleasant surprise.

Can you ever ask for a letter of recommendation with less than two weeks to go?

You can read about how to ask for a letter of recommendation at the last minute, so the answer is definitely yes.

Everyone understands that unforeseen things happen, whether it’s a recommender dropping out, a last-minute opportunity coming your way or other situations that affect your ability to complete the application in a timely fashion.

So, the real answer to the question of “how late is too late” is “it depends.”

There are a few questions you should probably ask yourself in this situation:

How well do you and the recommender know each other? What is your relationship like?

Why are you asking at the last minute?

Do you know what the recommender’s workload is like right now?

Things to consider in the timing of asking for a letter of recommendation

You can think about how late is too late to ask for a letter of recommendation in terms of a flow chart with a lot of “if/then” sentences in it.

If it’s a normal situation when you have ample time to review the application and gather the material, then you should give the recommender at least four weeks.

If you’re pressed for time, then it’s okay to ask about two weeks before the letter is due although some people may consider it not ideal.

If you have a good reason, like a death in the immediate family or a letter-writer who has dropped out at the last minute, then it may be okay to explain the extenuating circumstances to someone and ask them for a letter of recommendation.

In an extreme situation, asking with just one or two days’ notice may be acceptable, but this is only the case if you have a good existing relationship with the person that you are asking.

This small amount of notice is really not enough, but a great mentor or a manager that you have worked well with is going to want to help you.

However, you do need to recognize that they have their own priorities, and as much as they would like to do otherwise, they might still say no if they only have a few days.

If they do agree to help you, this is a great time to write a thank-you letter to your mentor!