Who Should I Ask to Write My Letter of Recommendation?

businessman holding card with text recommendation - image for scholarship letter of recommendationA good letter of recommendation can drastically improve your chances of getting a scholarship. Some awards require recommendations as part of the application process, and others leave this as an optional step. You should always consider including a letter of recommendation, if possible, because it will accentuate your worthiness as an applicant. Here are some tips to help you find the right person to write your letter.

Examples of Good People to Ask

Here are some resources you may consider for your scholarship recommendation letter:

  • Teachers and professors
  • Former or current employers
  • Clergy members (preachers, pastors, rabbis, imams, etc.)
  • Coaches
  • School counselors and advisers
  • Leaders of an organization you are associated with

Examples of People You Should NOT Ask

Every scholarship is different, but most scholarship committees are looking for recommendation letters from professional contacts, not personal relationships. When considering who to ask your letter of recommendation, avoid the following:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Spouses or partners
  • Employers from jobs you left on bad terms
  • People who do not know you well personally (a professor you have never spoken to)
  • Therapists

The only reason to ask people like this to write a scholarship letter of recommendation is if the application requires a character reference – someone who can speak on your personality traits, not your education or professional experience. If the application asks for a recommendation letter like that, use the tips in the following section to select the right person to ask.

Choosing the Right Person for Each Scholarship

scholarship letter recommendation man in suit thumbs upJust because someone is a good candidate for writing a letter of recommendation doesn’t mean that he or she should write a letter for a specific scholarship. You should select someone based on the scholarship you are applying for. This person should understand the award and why you truly are a good fit for it. This will lead to a compelling recommendation letter that the scholarship committee will respond positively to.

Another thing to keep in mind is how reliable the person is that you plan to ask. Your English professor may be asked to write dozens of recommendation letters every year. How likely is that person going to get the letter completed on time, if at all? Can you trust that it will be written with proper grammar and punctuation? Will that person be able to convey your value and achievements?

Try to select a writer that connects with the scholarship itself. For instance, let’s say you’re applying to a scholarship for female students in architecture and engineering degree programs. If you know a female architect or have a female physics instructor, that would be the ideal person to write the letter. Choose someone that can connect with you and the review committee at the same time, and that’s how you’ll get the best results.  

How Many Letters of Recommendation Do I Need?

scholarship letter recommendation - envelopesThe scholarship application will most likely specify how many letters of recommendation you can include. Most scholarships will ask for one to three letters. It is best to include the maximum number of letters with your application because that shows the review committee that you have a lot of support. That is a testament to your achievements as a person and as a student.

How to Ask Someone to Write a Scholarship Letter of Recommendation

Ideally, you should ask for a letter of recommendation in person. This may not be possible if the person you are asking lives far away. In that case, ask over the phone during appropriate hours (a professor’s office hours, an employer’s work hours, etc.). As a last-ditch effort, you can contact the person by email.

No matter what contact method you choose, make sure to explain why you are asking that person in particular to write a letter of recommendation. Examples: “You are well respected in the {hobby/professional} community, and I think you could make valuable commentary on my future contributions.” “I enjoyed working with you and learned constructive lessons that will facilitate my career. Your letter of recommendation could highlight that experience.”

You can use some flattery in the conversation, but avoid groveling for a recommendation letter. You are successful, accomplished, and driven. This person helped you get there. You do not need to fawn over him or her for a good letter. Just ask politely and thank the person for helping you get to your current standing.

When to Ask for a Scholarship Recommendation Letter

applicationYou can ask for a recommendation letter whenever you like, even before you find scholarships to apply to (see next section). However, the best time to ask for a scholarship recommendation letter is after you have chosen a scholarship to apply to and you know all the details. This will allow you to pick the right person to write a compelling letter of recommendation, and it will ensure that the letter you receive matches the prompt. For instance, if the scholarship application asks for a letter of recommendation describing unique contributions you have made to an organization, you can ask the writer to discuss that in the letter. If you ask for a generic letter, it may not fulfill the prompt.

Ask for a letter of recommendation as early as possible. The person writing it will have to find time in his or her schedule to write the letter, so it’s courteous to give them advanced notice. It’s also a good idea to ask for a letter when you still have a strong relationship with a person, like right when a semester finishes or shortly after you’ve finished your internship with an employer. This will ensure that your achievements are fresh on the person’s mind so they can write the best letter possible.

Getting Letters of Recommendation in Advance

Scholarship letter recommendation - image of woman writing on notepad and typing on computerEven though it is best to get recommendation letters during the time of your application, it helps to have a few on hand for backup. These can be generic letters that talk about your merits as a student, employee, volunteer, etc. Not all scholarship applications require a specific recommendation letter, so you can use these “filler” letters for those applications.

As we mentioned before, you should ask for these letters of recommendation while you still have a strong working relationship with someone. Talk to your favorite professors, mentors, school advisers and the like to get letters of recommendation for prospective scholarship applications. Explain that you plan to apply for a large number of scholarships for the upcoming semester and you want to have recommendation letters ready to go. This gives your mentors extra time to write flattering letters on your behalf, and it gives you a backup plan for the future.

Read these tips on how to answer the most common scholarship essay questions.