It’s scholarship season: how to ask for letters of recommendation

By: Fatima K. Jinnah

It’s scholarship season which means many of you will need to ask for letters of recommendation. The best person to ask is someone who knows your work well. The strongest reference comes from a professor, an employer, or the person who supervises your volunteer work.  Personal references know you well but are seen as biased so it is best not to use personal references unless they are specifically requested.

The way you request a recommendation might mean the difference between a good letter or no letter at all. Follow these three tips to ensure your professor has what he/she needs in order to say yes to your request.

1. Give your recommender at least one month to write your letter.

Most professors will have to write your letter of recommendation during their personal time. Work time is dedicated to office hours, grading, and planning the next lecture. Just like in your life, things come up. You want to make sure you’ve given your recommender enough leeway so that when personal emergencies arise, there is still enough time to devote to writing you an excellent letter of recommendation.

Your request should include the date you want your recommendation sent. Many scholarships want the recommendation to come in a sealed envelope with a signature across the seal. This means your recommender may be mailing the recommendations directly to the scholarship. To ensure your letter gets there on time, write a note on each scholarship application telling the recommender the scholarship deadline date.

2. Attach your personal statement and resume.

If you want to get a great recommendation, give your recommender lots of information about you. Don’t assume that because you’re a student in class or you see your counselor once a quarter that your professor/counselor knows you inside and out. Your personal statement helps your recommender understand your motivations for choosing a major and applying for that particular scholarship. This information can give your recommender a more complete understanding of who you are and what makes you, you.

3. Create a packet with self-addressed, stamped envelopes

Minimize confusion by creating a little packet for your recommender with all the relevant materials he/she may need to write your recommendation. Include the scholarship announcement so your professor will know what the scholarship requirements are and can tailor the recommendation to meet that requirement. For example, here at Foothill, Organización Latino Americano (O.L.A.) has a scholarship. One of the factors to qualify for the scholarship is demonstrating work or community service within the Latino community. Knowing this information, your professor can tailor his/her comments to substantiate what you wrote in your personal statement.

Your packet should also include your personal statement and resume (listed above). Lastly, make sure you provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The key is to make this process as smooth as possible for your recommender so they can spend their time thinking and writing about you, not sifting through papers to find the right mailing address.

Implementing these three tips will show your recommender that you are care about his/her time, you are serious, organized, and disciplined enough to implement these steps. This process is time consuming but rewarding. You’ll be happy you did it.

Don’t forget to send a thank you note!

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