Your scholarship application is complete. All that's left is your letter of recommendation. Your work is done, right?
Actually, no. Even though you don't write the letter, you're responsible for making sure it gets written. And there's a lot you can do to ensure it's the best letter possible.
Who Should Recommend You?
The best recommendations come from people who have worked closely with you and who understand the goals of the award for which you are applying. 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.
It's also important that the letter writer can write well, and in particular, write well about you. If they are evasive when you ask them to write you a letter, or seem uncomfortable or unenthused, maybe you should ask someone else. Ask them if they can write you a good letter of recommendation, and if not, who they would suggest you should ask.
Don't ask a family member for a recommendation. Their praise won't have the credibility to impress the admissions staff.
When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter
In most cases, you'll 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've started college. Ask for letters right after you've 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 doesn't remember you.
Some colleges can help by maintaining a dossier, or official letter file. When requested, letters from your dossier 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's how:
- Provide ample time for the letter to be written. Give at least three weeks advance notice.
- Make a formal request. Schedule an appointment to discuss the recommendation fully.
- Supply your recommender with as much information as possible, including:
- Your correct contact information (your full name as it appears on the application, address, email and phone number).
- Materials/information needed for the application, including two copies of any forms the recommender is to fill out (for a "rough draft" and a "final draft"); the full title and description of the award; the correct name, title and mailing address of the recipient; a copy of your completed scholarship application/essay; complete instructions on how the letters should be handled; and correct deadline information.
- Information about your achievements such as your transcripts, your resume, and reminders of your past work with the recommender (e.g. a description of coursework, a copy of an essay or class project, etc.).
If you're concerned that your recommender has forgotten your letter, gracefully remind them by asking if they need more information.
Once your letter's been sent, be sure to send a thank-you note to your recommender.
It's a lot to keep in mind, but all this work should produce a great letter of recommendation. Which means you can ... whew! ... breathe easier.