Let me provide you with a common scenario: You open up a fresh scholarship application and are able to check off all the boxes. You answer what activities you’ve participated in, challenging classes you’ve taken, skills you’ve learned through your various experiences, and the awards that you’ve won so far. It’s so exciting to get through an application for such a unique opportunity. Then it happens… “Provide a list of 2-3 references for us to contact and get a recommendation.” Nerve-wracking! I mean, who can you trust to put this great opportunity on the line for? That’s why I want to provide you with 5 things you shouldn’t do when requesting a letter of recommendation.
- Do NOT ask a family member. This would result in a heavily biased response. You may be related to some impressive individuals, but it is best to ask someone that you have a close, professional relationship with. This professional should be able to advocate for you in a way that supports the purpose of the scholarship and your contributions. You should choose someone that can attest to both your character and the quality of your work. For example, refrain from asking a professor that you may have performed well academically in their course, but they only know you by face and/or name. The more detailed and personalized the recommendation is, the better. Do not choose your recommender based on their renowned credentials, but rather an established relationship.
- Do NOT ask them with less than 3 weeks of notice. You want to give them ample time to write a quality letter. The earlier the notice requested, the better. This prevents procrastination on your behalf and demonstrates respect of their time. If they are involved in the early stages of your application process, they may be able to provide valuable insight. They will be well informed of your interest as you progress in your application. Timing is critical because this may influence if they are willing to write a recommendation or not. If they are not able to, it is helpful to request feedback regarding how they assess your strengths and weaknesses. If your primary choice can not write the recommendation, this allows you time to ask a secondary professional. Timing for requesting a recommendation generally ranges from 2 to 4 weeks.
- Do NOT forget to give them a copy of your application materials. This provides a context for them to understand who you are and what you do outside of how they know you as your coach, teacher, mentor, or supervisor. These application materials may include a description of the scholarship opportunity or program, your resume or CV, essays, personal statements, and transcript. If there has been a large lapse in time, it is helpful to provide a copy of your work that you’re proud of such as a paper or project to refamiliarize them with your interests. It is better to provide more information than not enough. If you have the option to see the recommender’s statement, be sure to decline. Since you have presented them with all the necessary information to provide a strong statement, declining to see the recommendation fosters confidence and demonstrates trust between you and the recommender.
- Do NOT remind the recommender to submit too many times. This may affect the quality of the letter if they are nagged by too many reminders or feel rushed. Along with providing your materials, be sure to clearly explain the submission instructions and deadline in writing. You may ask them to tell you when they have completed it to ensure all your documents have been received by the institution. You may also kindly request that they complete it by a specific date before the deadline if you are striving to be an early applicant.
- Do NOT forget to say thank you. This can be done with a card, email, or both. It is especially important if you may ask
them for another letter in the future. This will help them write stronger letters and reduce your chances of getting a no. It is important to keep building a rapport and keep them updated because they are happy to contribute to your success.