Letters of Recommendation
This page provides advice on getting a good letter of recommendation.
The teachers and other people you ask to write you a letter of
recommendation will be presenting you to the selection committee. They
will be comparing you to other students they have taught and past
recipients of the award. These comparisons will help the selection
committee understand whether they should select you as a winner.
This page is part of the section on maximizing your chances of
winning a merit scholarship.
- Seek good letters of recommendation. When asking people
to write you a letter of recommendation, ask them if they can write
you a good letter of recommendation. You should pick people
who can not only write well, but write well about you. If they seem
uncomfortable with the idea of writing a letter of recommendation for
you, ask them to suggest someone else who might be a better choice.
- Pick letters that are relevant.
Choose people who are relevant to the sponsor's goals. For example,
ask a science teacher to write a letter of recommendation for a
science scholarship, not your English teacher. All else being equal,
it is better to ask someone who has known your longer and who is more
impressed by your qualifications.
- Good letters are independent but know you. Depending on the nature of the scholarship program, you should
consider asking your teachers or professors, your employer, your
coach, the director of a community service activity where you
volunteered your time, and anybody who knows you well. Never, however,
ask a family member to write a letter on your behalf.
The purpose of the letter of
recommendation is to provide the selection committee with third-party
documentation and validation of your background. They want to read the
opinion of someone who is familiar with your background and knows you
well. It is even better if they can compare you with other students,
especially students who have won the award previously.
- Be courteous when asking.
Provide the recommender with a stamped and addressed envelope and any
required forms. It is also helpful to provide them with a summary of
the purpose of the award.
Ask him or her to write the letter at least four weeks
before it is due. Gently remind them ten days before the deadline,
asking them whether they have sent in the recommendation or need more
information from you.
Do not ask to see a copy of the letter, even if they offer to give you
a copy. If the recommender provides you with a copy of the letter, the
selection committee may suspect that the letter isn't as candid as it
might have been otherwise.
Send the writer a thank you note after the letter's been
mailed. In all likelihood you will ask them to write additional letters for
you. Once they've written one letter on your behalf, the second letter
is much easier. If you send them a thank you, it will give them a good
impression and make them more willing to spend time writing you
additional letters in the future.
- Create an accomplishments resume.
An accomplishments resume is a summary that lists of all your
accomplishments, both academic and extracurricular. You will find it
helpful to refer to it as your
complete applications, to ensure that you do not omit any relevant
aspects of your background.
You should provide a copy of your accomplishments resume to the people
who will be writing letters of recommendation for you. Even people who
have known you for a long time may not be familiar with all of your
accomplishments, and the resume can help jog their memory. They will
also be able to incorporate details from your resume into their
letters, making it seem like they know you better than they do.
The resume will also help save them time when they are writing your
letter. Writing a good letter takes time, so anything you can do to
make this process easier will help.