Earning Your Scholarship Letters of Recommendation

Your scholarship application is complete. All that is left is your letter of recommendation. Your work is done, right?

Actually, no. Even though you do not write the letter, you are responsible for making sure it gets written and there is a lot you can do to ensure it is the best letter possible.

Who Should Recommend You?

The best recommendations come from people who have worked closely with you and who understand the award you are applying for. Teachers and professors are excellent sources, but also consider previous employers, coaches, clergy members and community leaders.

Pick someone who can address the award's special criteria or the sponsoring organization's particular interests. For example, the director of the homeless shelter you volunteer at would be a great reference for an award sponsored by a community service group.

Do not ask a family member for a recommendation. Their praise will not have the credibility to impress the admissions staff.

When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

In most cases, you will ask for recommendations as you need them; for example, when you apply for college or scholarships. But you should also plan ahead. Start by making a list of potential letter-writers, including names, addresses, e-mail and phone numbers.

Next, compile a file of letters before you need them, especially once you have started college. Ask for letters right after you have finished a course with a professor who likes your work. If you wait until you need the letter (maybe two or three years down the line), you risk losing it because the professor does not remember you.

When requested, letters from your are sent directly and (if you waive your right to see them) can carry more weight with the judges because they know the recommender was able to express his or her true opinion.

Make It Easy

The people writing your recommendations are doing you a favor, so make it easy for them by being polite and organized. Here is how:

If you are concerned that your recommender has forgotten your letter, gracefully remind them by asking if they need more information.

Once your letter has been sent, be sure to send a thank-you note to your recommender.

It is a lot to keep in mind, but all this work should produce a great letter of recommendation. Which means you can breathe easier.

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