What Happens When Teacher Recommendations Are Late?

I am starting to panic because my applications are all due this weekend and none of my teachers have sent recommendation letters. Most of my colleges require one or two, but I asked THREE teachers to write them because I know some teachers flake. And yet none of these three have submitted anything yet. Do I start nagging them or are teachers known to submit rec letters at the last minute? What will colleges think if these are late?

The vast majority of admission officers expect the student's portion of the application to arrive by the deadline but will allow some wiggle-room for the other components, including teacher recommendations, to show up a bit later. (And even officials at those few colleges where everything must be in by the due date will usually look the other way when teachers are tardy, although they don't advertise it.)

Yet, with your deadlines looming, it's still a good idea to "nag" your teachers now. You can do it nicely by simply asking if they've sent their references already rather than complaining that they haven't! (If you know through Naviance or some other college-document program used by your high school that the references have not been submitted, then that information is probably accurate. But if you're looking on college portals, there's a solid chance that the references did arrive but the college folks haven't posted this yet. It can often take admission staff a week or more to update their portals when new information comes in.)

It isn't unusual for teachers — much like the teenagers in their classes — to procrastinate until the last minute, and many teachers are swamped with dozens of references to write. So inevitably, they won't finish the final ones until they're right up against the deadline. So there's no need for you to worry quite yet, but do give your teachers a friendly nudge, just to make sure that you don't have anything to worry about in a couple weeks!

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at