Is it normal for letter writers to not let you know they've received your materials or to not ask any questions?

I asked two professors via email for strong letters for med school. They responded yes over email and asked for a CV. I sent the CV, stated a deadline, requested that they please ask questions if needed and said again to please let me know if they didn't feel they could write something strong. Then no response. Not even an email to let me know they received the documents? No clarification? I gave a late deadline 3-4 months away; hopefully they aren't put off by this... 

Letter writers I've had previously would say something to let me know they understood and would get started. A short email that they will write it and then nothing more seems so impersonal. One of them didn't even respond to my first request - they responded to my one week followup email almost immediately with "I'm happy to write you a letter please send me your CV". I haven't heard anything beyond this from them.

I'm hoping for a more personal letter than an objective one and this response has me worried that I'm just going to receive a template letter. Even the suggestion that we have a short zoom session or discussion over email went ignored. Why would they not even take this opportunity to get to know me more on a personal level? I didn't know either of them particularly well as we are at an R1 school on the quarter system and they teach hundreds of students each year. Am I just going to get something impersonal now despite me requesting they please let me know if they wouldn't write something strong?


Guys, I don't need it right away. I'm wondering simply why they are so short in their communication and are unable even to respond that they received the email with the attachments? What if I wait three months and they never even saw that I sent attachments? With the exception of one professor, every single prof I have had here and will have in the remainder of my time has 150-350 students. I have no choice. And especially with everything online now, relationships are harder to build.

Update 2:

Bent Snowman, in a 15 minute zoom call, I could discuss my reasons for wanting medical school, my poor academic past, my desire for greater diversity in stem, etc...and they wouldn't reiterate this but can support these ideas in their letter by thinking of examples of our time together - "Oh yes, they did seem rather passionate about the lack of representation in stem and were asking me ways that the field could improve upon this"

Update 3:

Also, I never said I did not participate. I went to all office hours and was very vocal and rather jovial honestly...I don't consider office hours to be "getting to know the professor well" however. There were always about 8-10 students there at a time.

9 Answers

  • Anonymous
    2 weeks ago

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  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Holy crap.  I'm saying this to be helpful, but you come across as very high maintenance.  In your own words, you don't even know these profs that well.  When I got rec letters for grad school, I used profs from small classes where there was no doubt they'd write great recs.  In fact, 2 of them even offered this without my asking.  The entire process of asking them took 5 minutes, they did it by my deadline and sent me copies.

    Then there's your consistent use of the term "strong".  Do you really not see that this is insulting?  Profs get asked all the time for references, and they know how to compose one.  When you keep insisting that the letter be strong, it sounds like you want them to compensate for any shortcomings you have.  Another way to put it: why are you getting refs from profs who barely know you?

    Finally, a ZOOM meeting?  Do you really not see how entitled this is?  You're asking them for a favor, right?   What exactly do you think they owe you?

    Like I said, I truly do want to help, but you need some life lessons or whatever.  You can't treat people like this and you can't talk to them like this.  Well you can but.... 

  • 1 month ago

    The reality is that that your suggestion of a zoom call is you trying to get a more personal recommendation than you have. They don't know you very well, I think it's fine to help them know you a little bit but you can't replace the long game of getting the professor to know you over a semester or more with a short game. Things don't work like that. 

    Doesn't sound harder to get to know a professor to me, participate in class, go to office hours, what's different? You always do it that way. What's done is done, but don't make so many excuses. 

    Contact them again a month before the deadline to touch base. Something 3-4 months away isn't a priority.

    Edit: just sounds like you weren't successful at it, anyway looks like you got your answers here.

    Edit 2: yeah I agree with the other answerer about OP coming off as high maintenance. I didn't bother saying it only because I didn't want to deal with the OP anymore. If I don't want to deal with you and I barely interacted with you, imagine how profs who do know you feel. Agreed also with the insulting use of "strong", it's like this person thinks they learned all the rules and does the recipe, them is like oh the recipe doesn't work, But it's them.

  • 1 month ago

    Why are they short in their communication?  Because they don't get paid to write letters for students, and so many other students ask them to write them too.  So, you need to put on the kid gloves and tactfully keep in touch with them without sounding too demanding.  You also may want to think up a plan B if one or more of them fails to come through.  Good Luck.

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  • 1 month ago

    But the deadline's months away! These people have other more urgent matters on their minds. If they said they would do it, they'll do it; don't contact them again till MUCH nearer the deadline.

  • Pearl
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    maybe you should ask someone else to do that

  • g
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    If you want a more personal letter of recommendation, request it from someone who actually knows you personally. 1) They get literally dozens of these requests. B) if it's not needed for 3-4 months, there's no reason to press for this now. They're still working on the more immediate correspondence. 3 ) Prepare yourself - you're going to get a form letter.

    No professor is going to pursue building a relationship for the purpose of a letter of recommendation.

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Why are you asking for recommendations from people who don't personally know you?  You said yourself the professors "teach hundreds of students each year" and combined with the pandemic, they have their hands full.  Perhaps they sent the letters directly to the school.  Either wait it out or find new recommendations ideally from people who know you.

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    The mistake was giving them a deadline so far away. 

    Like any academic they will footle about until the last possible minute.

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