Many scholarship programs will ask applicants to submit one or more letters of recommendation along with their completed application. Recommendation letters can help fill in the gaps between the information you provide about yourself (such as your grades and extracurricular activities) and why you are uniquely qualified to earn top scholarship dollars. Getting the right letters of recommendation could make all the difference between a top award, a smaller award, or no scholarship award at all. To make sure your recommendation covers everything it should, keep these five things in mind:
1. Select people who know you well: The first step to getting great letters of recommendation is to select the right people to write them for you. The best recommendations come from people who know you well, and with whom you've worked closely. Teachers, employers, and coaches are excellent choices, as are people you've volunteered with and members of your clergy.
[Learn more about college scholarships.]
2. Select people relevant to the application: Letters of recommendation should be relevant to the scholarship for which you're applying. For example, if the scholarship is geared toward students who play the piano and volunteers in the community, the best people to ask are your piano teacher and the volunteer coordinator you've worked with most closely. To help you select the right person for each scholarship, write a list of the qualities that make you eligible for the scholarship award and look for individuals who know you best in terms of those qualities.
[Remember to ask nicely—and early—for recommendations.]
3. Select people who write well: It's important that letters of recommendation are well written. However, it may be hard to know if, for example, your soccer coach or your math teacher write well. One great way to help anyone who agrees to write a recommendation for you is to provide a list of your qualities that fit with the scholarship application—including your transcripts, a list of your activities and awards, and specific accomplishments they may already know about you. Make sure they don't forget important information as they prepare to write your letter.
4. Select people who are enthusiastic: Great letters of recommendation will be written by people who are enthusiastic about you and your abilities—and who have the time and willingness to write a letter for your application. If you approach anyone who seems ambivalent, uncomfortable, or unenthused about doing this for you, consider finding someone else. You want a good letter, which requires an enthusiastic letter writer.
[Read 5 reasons why college scholarships are essential.]
5. Select people who can write a good letter about you: Last but not least, only select people who can and will write a good letter about you. It's OK to ask them if they will write a good letter of recommendation at the time you approach them, and OK to look for another recommender if you're not sure they will.
Finally, here's one important thing to put on your not-to-do list: Never ask a family member to write you a letter of recommendation, no matter how well they fit the above criteria or how objectively they write about you. Recommendations by family members will never be as credible as recommendations by others, and you always want to put your best foot forward.
Janine Fugate joined Scholarship America in 2002. She is an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict, in Saint Joseph, Minn., and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Fugate is the recipient of numerous scholarships at both the undergraduate and graduate level.