Letters of Recommendation for Scholarship Application
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How many and what sorts of recommendations are required for your
scholarship? You might need one letter or several. An application
may require letters of recommendation from professors/instructors,
the supervisor of a volunteer, leadership, or work experience, an
academic advisor, or some combination.
Most often, an academic recommendation that comments on your class
performance and your intellectual abilities is necessary. Ideally, a
professor with whom you have successfully worked in at least one class
would agree to provide a recommendation. To do this, the professor must
know your capabilities, either through classroom interactions,
conversations outside of class, or a research project. Some professors
are willing to write recommendations for students who have done an
excellent job in a large lecture class, even if there was little
If you feel that a non-faculty instructor (such as a lecturer,
teaching specialist, or graduate teaching assistant) knows you best and
can provide the most substantive recommendation, find out whether a
letter from this person would be acceptable. Some scholarship
competitions require recommendations from members of the faculty,
whereas others will accept letters from non-faculty instructors. At the
University of Minnesota, a member of the faculty is an assistant
professor, associate professor, professor, or professor emeritus. Job
titles of all employees are listed in the University's online directory.
Focus on the particular criteria and any other background details
requested by the scholarship sponsors. If service or leadership
experience is required, go to the director of the nonprofit organization
in which you volunteered; or clergy who have firsthand knowledge of your
ongoing contribution to your religious community; or your college
athletic coach or the faculty advisor to your student organization. Some
scholarships want a recommendation from an academic advisor or counselor
who can comment broadly on your academic success, educational goals,
maturity, and dependability. A letter from a work supervisor may be
appropriate, if your supervisor can comment on skills and experiences
that are relevant to your long-term plans and to your scholarship
proposal. A personal character reference from a family friend is
generally not acceptable, nor is a reference from a high school teacher
or scout leader, unless that person can comment on an important activity
that you have continued during college.
Making your request
Be courteous and straightforward when asking for recommendations.
Although writing an effective recommendtion takes time and effort, most
professors and mentors are happy to do this for excellent students. Some
ways to word your request might be: "Do you feel that you know me well
enough to write a scholarship recommendation for me?"; or "Do you think
I would be a good candidate for a scholarship and, if so, would you be
willing to write a recommendation?"; or "I'm applying for X scholarship
and believe they will be interested in (ex: my performance in your
class, the research I've been doing). Would you have time to write a
recommendation for me?".
Make your request well in advance—at least three or four weeks before
the deadline. Meet in person, if possible. Visit your professor during
office hours or by appointment to creating an opportunity to get to know
you better and ask questions that will help them write the
recommendation. Moreover, seeing you in person will make it easier for
your professor to recall previous interactions with you.
If your request is declined; perhaps s/he doesn't know you well
enough; your academic performance in his/her class was not strong
enough, or you haven't allowed adequate time. In some cases, someone who
declines to write a recommendation may be willling to offer suggestions
for identifying others who would be more appropriate for you.
When someone has agreed to help you, make the job easier by offering
him or her information about the scholarship and why you are applying.
You might provide a brief description of the scholarship and a
recommendation form, if available; a paper or exam you wrote for the
instructor's course (preferably the copy that was returned to you with
comments); a rough draft of your personal statement, if you have one, a
brief one-page resume. Do not risk offending your prospective writer by
offering language or talking points. However, let him/her know why you
are asking for the recommendation. For example, you may have received a
high grade on a research paper you wrote for his/her course or s/he is
familiar with a skill or activity that you have emphasized in your
As the deadline approaches, send your recommender a courteous
reminder; afterward, send a brief thank-you note. Keep your recommender
informed as the competition proceeds.
Once someone has written a recommendation letter for you, s/he will
generally be willing to adapt and update the letter for other purposes
in the future.
Generally, don't expect to read your letters of recommendation.
Letters carry more weight with selection committees if they are kept
confidential. Most scholarships committees require that letters of
recommendation be submitted securely online; or sent directly to a
selection committee; or delivered to the applicant in envelopes with a
signature across the seal.