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How to Get the Best Letters of Recommendation for Your Scholarship Applications

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Scholarship ApplicationsIf you have no idea what you are doing, asking for a letter of recommendation for a scholarship application can be kind of a nerve-wracking experience. Who should you ask? When should you ask? How can you tell if someone is going to write you a good letter of recommendation or a terrible one? Whether you’re a high school student going to college for the first time or a community college student transferring to a four-year institution, knowing how to get the best letter of recommendation possible can make all the difference. Luckily, I have all of the answers for you neatly packaged into this blog post!

Ask the Right People:

The “right person” depends on the purpose of the letter of recommendation. For scholarship applications, the readers want confirmation that you are indeed a good student—an educator is typically the right person to convey this message about you.

You know your professor or teacher is the right person for a recommendation if:

  • You’ve taken multiple classes or have a long history with the teacher. These kinds of letters are always more in-depth and thoughtful.
  • They teach in your intended major or a closely-related subject.
  • They meet the guidelines specified in the application. Sometimes an application will identify a specific person who needs to write the letter of recommendation—they might even specify what needs to be written. In that case, do not use a general letter and try to follow the guidelines exactly.

My rule for letters of recommendations is this: unless specifically stated otherwise, get an educator to write the letter. Letters from mentors, family members, supervisors, and others should only be used if allowed and if they greatly help your case.

Ask the Right Way:

Most educators are busy (or sometimes just absent-minded) and won’t take the time to write an amazing letter of recommendation unless you’ve spent time with them one-on-one. If you haven’t gotten a chance to know your teacher or professor, you’ll want to submit a paragraph-long summary of your accomplishments that tells them the following:

  • A little about the scholarship or college and its requirements (if any)
  • Who you are and your career/academic plans
  • Why you think you should win this scholarship or why this college is important to you
  • Why you asked this professor specifically for a letter of recommendation

By giving the teacher this background information all in one handy document, you’ve basically written the outline of your letter of recommendation for them.

Ask in Advance:

Don’t wait until a week before the deadline to ask for a letter of recommendation. For scholarships, ask for letters ahead of time. Why? Frankly, because asking at the last second is disrespectful of the recommender’s time. Also, asking at the last second increases the chances of the professor or teacher just flat out saying “no,” or worse, writing a short, insignificant letter of recommendation because you didn’t give them enough time to put any real thought into it. All gloom and doom aside, play it safe and ask for a letter of recommendation at least 2 to 3 weeks before it’s due.

Ask for Copies:

I recommend asking for multiple copies of the letter of recommendation. Meaning, just ask for 10 copies of the letter of recommendation up front so that you can use those letters whenever you go to apply for a scholarship.

You should also always ask for at least one more copy of the letter than you actually need. This is your copy to read just in case the teacher seals the letter without giving you a chance to read it. Some professors are really bad at writing letters of recommendation and you don’t want to blindly submit a letter without reading it first—even if that’s against the professors wishes.


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Diane Melville has experienced community college transfer success first hand. After earning her AA in biomedical engineering from Miami Dade College, she was accepted into some of the best schools in the nation. She ultimately transferred to Babson College to earn her bachelor of science in entrepreneurship and marketing. Diane has dedicated her career as an education professional, entrepreneur, and public speaker to advocating for community college reform and bettering the financial aid system.

Melville is the author of The Community College Advantage.