Get That Stamp of Approval: Preparing Recommendation Letters
Completing scholarship applications is often a tenuous process for students, requiring a lot of patience and determination. However, once the goal is obtained, the rewards are priceless. Often, one of the requirements in scholarship applications include letters of recommendation, similar to when one seeks employment or applying to graduate school and is required to present references who can attest to their experience, skills, and talent. The references are often employers, teachers, instructors, counsellors, mentors, and advisors.
If you’re new to the world of recommendation letters, it does seem daunting to accomplish at first. When you know exactly how the process works, however, you’ll be surprised why you were worried in the first place. Read below for pointers on getting recommendation letters.
Check how many recommendation letters you’d need.
Some organizations or institutions may only require one, while others at least three or more. It is best to check with them first on how many you’d need before proceeding to the next step. Make a list of all the possible referees you could have and arrange them according to the one whom you think can put you in the best light possible. This means those whom you have not only an ideal professional working relationship with but also share a genuine friendship with. On your list, have at least two or three back up in case the others do not pan out.
Verify the timelines and method of delivery.
It’s important to check the deadline for submission for the recommendation letters so you can inform the referees ahead of time. Ideally, they will need to be informed at least a month before the deadline. Informing them a week or two is a definite no-no. Remember, even though you are close to them or some of them, you have to show that you respect their time and thus you are giving them enough time to write the letter.
Also check if the referees can send their recommendation letters directly or if they have to come through you. The former is actually the preferred method as reviewers or admissions committees consider the direct ones to hold more weight as they are confidential and are thus more honest and accurate.
Ask formally via a letter or email.
Simply casually mentioning to a referee that you would like a recommendation letter from them as if you are asking them what their favourite colour is highly discouraged. Remember, they are not obliged to provide you this letter, and they can easily refuse if they feel they are not asked properly. The best way to ask is by handing them a letter of request or sending them an email about your request and confirming they have received it afterward.
Be clear with the content requirements.
Whether you plan to request via a printed letter or an email, ensure that you are clear on what you need from them, including the timelines, and you make them aware of your target and goals and what aspect about you can they best mention, such as a project you’ve done or volunteer experience you’ve accomplished that you are most proud of. Letting them know that they can include personal observations of you can add a more personal touch, like how you handled a conflict in class, etc.
Also, it helps if you can make time to arrange a brief meeting with them in case there are needs for clarification. If they agree, schedule it according to their convenience, not yours.
Follow up when necessary.
If you have not heard back from a potential referee for a week after you’ve formally handed your request, it is okay to follow up through a simple email or a brief phone call (if you have their number). However, again, no one is obligated to write you a letter so you should not be demanding. Do follow up when necessary but make sure to do it in the most courteous and respectful way possible and nicely remind them of the timelines. Remember they have demanding schedules and for sure other students have asked the same of them, so a little reminder goes a long way.
Don’t forget to say thank you.
Once they’ve informed you they’ve completed the recommendation letters, offer your appreciation by a simple handwritten thank you note or an email. Include in your note that you will make sure to keep in touch and keep them posted on what the result will be for your application so they feel they are part of the process too.
So there you go! Getting recommendation letters is not a tangled web of a process as many would like to believe once you know what goes through it. So follow the steps above and get the ball rolling on those recommendation letters for your application. Good luck!