As an expert in winning scholarships, I’m here to guide you through the somewhat daunting process of securing a winning scholarship reference letter. A great scholarship letter of recommendation could be the key to turning the tide in your favour and helping you pay for college or university. 

So, this part of your application should be approached carefully and with a great deal of thoughtfulness. Let’s cover what you need to know about scholarship recommendation letters.

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Understanding the Importance of Scholarship Recommendation Letters

Before diving into the “how,” it’s crucial to understand the “why.” Scholarship recommendation letters are critical components of your application. They are often weighed heavily by selection committees, especially for competitive scholarship opportunities. Referees (people who write reference letters for you) are supposed to be your advocates, testifying to your achievements and potential. So, don’t just ask anyone; choose wisely.

Landing a Supportive Scholarship Reference Letter: The Essentials

Now that you understand why these letters are important, let’s get to the how. Here’s your road map to ensuring your referee crafts a letter that distinguishes you from other scholarship applicants. 

Secure a Supportive Letter of Recommendation: Reading Between the Lines

A winning letter comes from a referee who knows you well, understands your strengths, and can vouch for you with solid examples. When you approach your referee, ask specifically if they can write a “supportive letter of recommendation”. Watch for enthusiasm in their response, as hesitance may negatively reflect in the letter.

Keep in mind, you may be competing against hundreds or thousands of other high school students or undergraduates in a scholarship competition. All components of your application, including letters of recommendation, will be compared to others. For this reason, your referee should ooze support for you. That enthusiasm will likely translate well and help you stand out. 

Choosing the Right Referee to Write a Recommendation

When deciding who to ask for a recommendation, consider someone who can shed light on your strengths and provide valuable insights about your abilities. Moreover, consider their title and its relevance to the type of scholarship. A coach makes sense for an athletic scholarship, a supervisor or instructor may work for an award centered on extracurricular activities, and of course, a teacher or a professor with a Ph.D. likely makes most sense for an academic award.

Expert Tip: Who Should You Ask to Write a Scholarship Recommendation Letter? 

Often, the best person to ask for a letter is someone who has seen you work hard at something and watched you grow over time. This will allow your referee to credibly comment about why you’re likely to achieve your goals in the future. 

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Best Practices When Requesting a Scholarship Recommendation Letter

Approaching someone for a recommendation letter requires professionalism and consideration. Here are some key tips to follow.

Maintain Professionalism in Communication

When reaching out to a potential referee, make sure to be professional. Use a friendly and respectful tone, clearly stating your need for a recommendation letter in the subject line. Always proofread your communications, ensuring they’re free of grammatical errors.

Plan Ahead and Be Considerate: Scholarship Letters Take Time

Keep your referee’s schedule in mind. Avoid last-minute requests and give them plenty of time to prepare. A window of three to six weeks is ideal. It’s also acceptable to send periodic reminders, just to ensure your request stays on their radar.

Remember, you’re asking for this person to support you. Approaching them when a deadline is a day or two away doesn’t put them, or you, in a position to succeed. 

Providing Helpful Information to Your Referee

Support your referee by sharing as much information as possible, including your application documents and specifics about the scholarship.

Share Your Scholarship Application Documents

Whether your application is ready or still in progress, share as much as you can with your referee. This includes your personal statement, résumé, transcripts, test scores, and any additional pertinent details.

Consider that your referee may not know everything about you or your application. These materials can help them amplify the message you’re sharing in your application. 

Share Detailed Scholarship Information

Provide your referee with comprehensive scholarship information, such as the scholarship name, the amount being offered, the due date, submission details, eligibility requirements, and the kind of student the scholarship aims to support. This enables them to tailor their letter to fit the scholarship program. Additionally, it may help your recommender provide specific examples of their experience with you. This creates a more personalized endorsement, which is great for your application. 

Don’t Feel Guilty About Requesting Scholarship Letters

Yes, requesting letters of recommendation can be stressful, and you might feel like you’re burdening someone. But remember, everyone has been there. The people you’re asking likely had to ask for similar support in their career. They understand and are likely happy to help!

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Summary: How the Best Scholarship Applications Request Letters of Recommendation

Successfully securing a supportive recommendation letter involves a few key steps:

  • Ask your referee for a “supportive letter” and pay attention to their enthusiasm.
  • Choose a referee who knows you well and can provide real examples of your achievements.
  • Always be professional and give your referee plenty of notice.
  • Share any relevant application documents and details about the scholarship.
  • Lastly, don’t feel guilty about asking for a recommendation.

Armed with these tips, you’re now ready to secure a winning scholarship reference letter. Happy scholarship hunting!

Christopher Grafos, Ph.D., is the founder and chief scholarship mentor at BridgesEDU Scholarships.

He’s a first-generation university graduate whose life was transformed by education and winning scholarships. 

Scholarships help students financially, but they also help advance a student’s career. It’s his life’s work to champion this message and share the secrets to finding and winning scholarships. 

Read more about Christopher’s journey here