From my experience with scholarships, I can tell you that a letter of recommendation can make or break any scholarship application. A letter of recommendation shows that you know how to ask for help (which is very important in college and beyond), and verifies the information that you include with your application. But how do you ensure that you have a great letter when someone else is writing it? How do you know that they said all the right things when you may never actually get to read it yourself? Here are some tips to get a great letter of recommendation every time.
- Make sure your recommender has a lot of (positive) things to write about. Freshmen and sophomores, this is great advice for you. If you want to earn scholarships when you are a senior, you can start working toward that goal right now. How? By getting involved and by trying hard. Join athletics or extracurricular activities, get involved in volunteer organizations, and put extra effort into your schoolwork. You may not succeed at everything you try, but if you work hard without complaining, your efforts will not go unnoticed.
- Think of 2-3 adults that you want to ask, and then ask them! When you are thinking about who to ask for a letter of recommendation, consider these questions: Which adults know me well? Who do I respect? Who has seen me in a positive light? Who is invested in my future (that isn’t my mom)? Possibilities can include a teacher, school counselor, coach, pastor, work supervisor, mentor, etc. After you have a couple people in mind, go to them and ask if they would be willing to write you a letter of recommendation when the time comes.
- Provide excellent resources. Have you ever tried to write a research paper without any resources? Nearly impossible, right? Even if your recommender knows you fairly well, it may be difficult to gather all of your good qualities and accomplishments into one letter without a little help. And since you are the leading expert on yourself, you are the most qualified to provide this help. When you ask someone to write a letter for you, make sure to give them a copy of the scholarship application (or at least the criteria), and a copy of your resume that includes your extracurricular activities, any work experience, your academic achievements, and any leadership positions you may have held. A great way to do this is by creating an Activities Resume and maintaining it throughout your high school career.
- Ask early! Have you ever been given a last-minute assignment when you had about a million other things to do? Has all of your work suffered because you weren’t able to give any one task the time and attention it deserves? Well here’s the thing—that doesn’t go away when you’re an adult (if anything, it gets worse). If you are dumping the task of writing a letter of recommendation on someone the day before it’s due, the quality of that letter is going to suffer. I suggest that you give your recommender at least two weeks before the scholarship deadline to complete their letter.
- Follow up. Now that you’ve assigned the letter of recommendation to someone (and given them a good two weeks of time to do their best work), consider how and when to follow up with this person. If they don’t reach out to you first, consider reminding them four days to a week before the scholarship deadline. It may feel like you’re being a pest, but your recommender should understand how important it is to submit a great letter on time.
Although a letter of recommendation is very important to the scholarship application process, it does not have to be difficult. With a little planning and organization, you can make sure that your letter is just as amazing as the rest of your application.