So, you’ve written a thoughtful personal statement for your scholarship. Your GPA is strong. Your extracurricular activities are even stronger. You’ve got this scholarship for college locked up, right?

Not so fast. Have you been asked to submit a scholarship reference letter? If so, do you know if your referee is very supportive? Kind of supportive? Or, are they just writing a letter because they didn’t want to hurt your feelings and say no?

Scholarship recommendation letters are incredibly important. Without question, they can be a difference maker. Particularly for competitive scholarship opportunities. In fact, scholarship recommendation letters are likely weighted as one of the most significant parts of your application by any scholarship selection committee. Because of this, you shouldn’t just ask anyone to write one for you.

If you’re unsure what to do or how to ask for a scholarship letter of recommendation, you’ve come to the right place. Below are the major items you need to know to ensure that you ask the right person to be your referee and to ensure that they say the right things.

Ask for a Supportive Reference: Listen to Body Language

A supportive reference letter can help ensure that your application is well-regarded by the committee reviewing it.

A supportive letter is written by someone who knows you well and who can speak to your strengths as an applicant. This person may be able to provide examples of why they think you should win based on past experiences with you.

The best type of reference letter is one that highlights who you are and your accomplishments. A supportive letter shows that you have done well in school and have been involved in extracurricular activities (or in whatever the scholarship requires of its successful candidate). This will help convince the scholarship committee that you should be awarded the money that they want to give away!

When you approach a potential referee, it may be wise to ask if they can write “a supportive” letter of reference for you rather than just asking for a letter itself. When asking, you should be in tune with how they respond – both what they say and their body language. Anyone writing a recommendation letter for you should be enthusiastic to do so. “I’d love to support you,” or, “I’d be happy to write a strong and supportive letter for you,” should be the kind of thing you look for. If your potential referee hesitates, takes long pauses before answering you, or expresses concern that they may not be the best person to write you a letter, ask someone else! This hesitance will come out in their letter and that’s not what you want to happen. Remember, what they say and how they say will tell you a lot about how supportive they may be.

Ask the Right Person

When asking for a scholarship reference letter, it is important to ensure that they can comment on your strengths. The best way to do this is by asking someone who has seen you work hard at something or watched you grow as an individual over time.

This is usually someone who has taught or mentored you in some way, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, professor, or coach. They can provide insight into what makes you great at what you do, while also speaking about how they think these qualities will help you achieve your goals in the future. On this note, your supporter should be able to give clear examples from their work with you. This will help bolster the strength of their letter and words.

You should also consider the type of scholarship being applied for when selecting your letter write. For example, if you are applying for an athletic scholarship, it might be best to choose someone who has coached or played with you in athletics. If this is not an option, then look for someone who can speak about how hard working and dedicated you are to achieving success in whatever field you choose to pursue.

Also, when asking for a scholarship reference letter, your referee’s title may matter. For example, if you apply for a scholarship that rewards academic merit, a professor with a Ph.D. will look strong. If you’re professor is head of a department, or has other accolades, that’s great, too! If you’re asking a coach or mentor for a letter of recommendation, it may also help your application if they have significant accomplishments attached to their name.

Be Professional

When asking for a scholarship recommendation letter, always be professional in your approach and communications.

Your mentor or professor should be happy to help you, but they won’t want to be pestered by requests that don’t seem serious and polished.

Send your potential referee an email with the subject line “Reference Letter Request” and explain that you are applying for a scholarship and need a letter of recommendation from them.

Always use a friendly opening salutation, something like “Dear [insert name],” or “Hi [insert name], I hope all is well”. You’ll want to do the same at the end of your email, too. Something like, “Best wishes” or “Best regards”.

Finally, always read over your communications before hitting the send button and check for grammatical errors. This will help your letter writer know that you are serious about winning this prize and you’re committed to getting the little details right.

Give Lots of Notice and Send Courteous Reminders

If you’re asking for a scholarship reference letter, it’s important to remember that your referee will likely have a busy schedule. They’ll be working on their own projects and helping others with theirs, and they might be getting back from vacation or taking a break from school. So, when you ask them for a favor like this, don’t put them in an awkward position by asking them at the last minute—instead, give them plenty of time to prepare. Three to six weeks is ideal, but if this isn’t feasible, give as much advanced notice as possible.

You should also know that it is appropriate to send periodic reminders so that your referee doesn’t forget about your scholarship letter deadline.  Remember, they are busy, so a friendly nudge to ask if they need anything else to complete the letter is entirely acceptable. When doing so, you can leave contact information that allows your referee to get in touch with you in whatever way they feel comfortable.

Share Documents You Plan to Submit

While you may not have your scholarship application finished when you contact your referee, it’s good practice to send them any completed documents you plan to submit.

This includes your personal statement, résumé, transcripts, and test scores, as well as any special circumstances that might affect your application (such as having taken time off from school or working full-time), and any additional information about yourself or your goals that would help explain why this scholarship would help advance your career path or education goals.

Share Scholarship Information

When requesting letters, make sure you share all the information with your referee. This includes things like the name of the scholarship, how much money is being offered, the due date, where to submit the letter, and what kind of student they are looking for. For example, if it’s a scholarship for women only, then you should make sure that your mentor understands that only women can apply. If it’s a scholarship for veterans only, then you should make sure they know this, too. You can also give them a link to the website where they can find more information. This will help your referee write a more detailed letter that is tailored to you and what the scholarship is looking for.

Moreover, if you can think of specific experiences or accomplishments that you have had that relate to the scholarship in question, share them with your referee so they can include them in the letter.

Ultimately, try to ensure that the person knows what they’re signing up for and what the application process entails! By giving your referee information about the scholarship’s mandate, they can avoid making irrelevant or unhelpful claims in their letter.

Don’t Feel Bad

Requesting letters of recommendation is one of the most stressful parts of applying to a scholarship. You know you need one, but you also know that it’s going to be hard work for your referee.

But don’t feel bad about asking! If someone wants to support you, they’re going to be more than happy to take a little time out of their day to write one for you. After all, what’s a few minutes of work in the grand scheme of things?

It’s also likely that your letter writer had to ask someone to support them at some point in their career. Don’t forget this! Too often, students feel like it’s way too much of a burden to ask for someone’s support, but the letter writer has probably been there, and if they want to help you, then writing a letter won’t be too onerous.


  • Ask your referee if they will write a “supportive letter” for you.
  • Pay attention to body language and ensure they are enthusiastic about supporting you.
  • Request a letter from someone who knows you well and can provide examples of your character.
  • Give plenty of notice (3 to 6 weeks if possible) and send courteous reminders.
  • Share any documents you plan to submit with your letter writer.
  • Send your referee any relevant information related to the scholarship, including links, due dates, and details about the application process.
  • Always be professional in your communications!