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People holding stars over their heads.Welcome back to the Scholarship Application 101 series! If you haven’t been following along so far, check out part 1 and part 2 of the series.

We’ll be concluding today with some information on letters of recommendation. Let’s get started!

What are letters of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is intended to be submitted by an adult in your life who is not a relative. While the format of the letter may be different from scholarship to scholarship, the information in the letter will be roughly the same. Your recommender will write how they know you and why you are an excellent candidate to be selected for a scholarship.

Why are letters of recommendation required?

Scholarship applications require letters of recommendation so that the review committee has a second (or third or fourth, depending on how many letters they ask for) opinion on whether you should receive a scholarship. Your recommendation will confirm the information in the rest of your application and show that someone has a positive opinion of you and your accomplishments.

How do I get good letters of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation are tricky because it is the part of your application over which you have the least amount of control. However, there are some steps that you can follow to increase your chances of getting a good letter.

  • Follow the instructions: Before you start asking for letters, read each application carefully and see what specific instructions they have for letters of recommendation. Note if they have any requirements about who should write the recommendation, how many letters you should submit, any specific prompts/questions your recommender should address, and any submission guidelines. This will give you the full picture of all the work that you and your recommender(s) have to complete.
  • Be picky: If the application doesn’t specify that your letter has to be submitted by a certain person, then it’s up to you to choose. What adults do you have in your life (that aren’t family members)? Some options include adults at your school (teachers, principals, counselors, coaches, etc.), pastors/religious leaders, work/volunteer supervisors, mentors, and more. Consider these questions when you’re trying to find a recommender: Who knows you well? Who do you respect? Who has seen you succeed and/or work hard to improve? Who is invested in your future? Is this person able to express themselves clearly, and do they keep their time commitments? You are looking for someone who knows you well, who has a favorable opinion of you, and who is able to express themselves well and meet deadlines.
  • Give enough time: When it comes to letters of recommendation, you’ll want to select a recommender early, ask early, and give plenty of time before the deadline (1-2 weeks) for your recommender to complete their letter. You may also want to follow up with your recommender as they write their letter.
  • Give good resources: Although you will probably select a recommender who knows you fairly well, it is also a good idea to help them along the way. Give your recommender a list of your accomplishments, honors, and extracurricular activities (an Activities Resume is a great way to do this). Your recommender may not use all the information that you provide, but it will help them to give specific examples of your accomplishments and character in their letter.

Thanks for checking out the Scholarship Application 101 series. With these tools, you can put your best foot forward on scholarship applications. Good luck!