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Letters of Recommendation for Scholarship Application

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.

Academic recommendations

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 personal interaction.

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.

Nonacademic recommendations

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 application.

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.


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