Without a doubt, I think the most important factor when acquiring a letter of recommendation is asking the appropriate person for this potentially valuable document. Apparently this is a primary issue, not only to me but to other scholarship providers as well, as a recent conversation with a fellow scholarship provider confirmed. It’s pretty simple to those of us in the field: "Don’t ask someone to recommend you for something about which they know nothing”. Essentially, when scholarship providers ask you for a letter of recommendation, they are asking for a written backing of your "self-nomination" and usually it is just one other opinion they seek, so don’t have Uncle Freddy the electrician vouch for you, OK? Below are some pointers that could help any student in need of a letter of recommendation.
Don’t ask your cousin or your parents’ dog walker for a recommendation. Ask someone relevant to the scholarship for which you are applying. For example, if volunteer work is among the scholarship’s criteria, ask your supervisor from the organization where you volunteered.
Don’t wait until the last minute and give the person helping you out a day or two to complete the letter. As soon as you know you are going to apply for a scholarship that requires a letter of recommendation, start putting the necessary documents together then select and ask your ideal author/supplier of this letter if they would be willing to help you out.
Give your recommender enough material so that it will be quick and easy for them to oblige. Alternatively, as a colleague recently suggested to me, you can just write it for them and ask them to sign their name to it. If you take this approach, just remember that they are not likely to sign anything they don’t want to be associated with, so speak well of yourself but keep it realistic.
Just to give your letter the authenticity the scholarship provider is likely to desire, have your recommender put the letter on their letterhead.
Whatever you do, don’t make the person writing this letter for you hunt for stamps or an oversized envelope (much less buy them!). Be appreciative of their time and effort and show it by being as prepared and gracious as possible.
In addition to giving your recommender ample time to provide you with a good letter of recommendation, be sure to say thank you and realize this is a big favor and one that could save you from a lot of debt when you graduate college.
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