How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

IMPORTANT: We strongly advise all national scholarship applicants to discuss their choice of recommenders with a National Scholarships Office staff member BEFORE asking for letters. Please contact us at scholarships@umd.edu or (301) 314-9458.

OVERVIEW

When you apply for nationally competitive scholarships you will need several letters of recommendation – usually three, but it can be anywhere from two to four or more.

These letters serve a very important purpose in the application process: they allow professors and other mentors – such as internship or community service supervisors, athletic coaches, research supervisors – to share their first-hand impressions about the qualities that make you distinctive intellectually, personally and/or professionally.

For this reason you want to select recommenders who a) know you well and b) can discuss some of your best accomplishments – academic or extracurricular. This can include instructors for courses in which you did some of your best work, and it should include any thesis or research supervisors. This also includes internship and volunteer activity supervisors, and employers who can attest to your leadership or ability to learn and work with others in service and professional environments. The specific choices will often depend on which scholarship you are applying for – another reason to discuss your choices with National Scholarships Office staff.

It is also important to ask your recommender for their support in a thoughtful and respectful way. The more you do to help them understand why the scholarship is important to you and to show them how much you value their support, the easier it will be for them to write an effective letter.

The steps below require a little planning and attention on your part, but will almost certainly result in better letters from your recommenders.

8 Simple Steps for Requesting a Recommendation Letter

Once you've decided to apply for a national scholarship, there are several steps you can take to help your recommenders write you highly effective letters of support.

First, whenever possible make appointments to discuss your scholarship application plans in person (or by phone, if necessary) with your prospective recommenders. If you cannot meet or speak write a clear, informative e-mail. Tell them what scholarship you are applying for, and why, and ask them candidly if they would be willing to write a letter for you.

Second, write a couple of paragraphs for your recommenders describing the nature of the scholarship you are applying for. This should include information about the nature of the award (e.g., study abroad, graduate study, summer internships, etc.) and the broader goals of the scholarship program (e.g., supporting the environment, providing international experiences, promoting scientific careers, etc.).

Third, write a brief statement to give to each recommender summarizing a) why you are applying for the particular scholarship, b) what you hope to accomplish during the scholarship and c) how winning the scholarship would assist you in achieving your educational, service or professional goals. If your application requires a specific project proposal, you should briefly describe your intended project as well.

Fourth, give each recommender an updated resume listing your most recent activities and accomplishments. You might want to call their attention in a separate paragraph to the experiences that you believe make you a well-qualified candidate for the particular scholarship you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a Fulbright award to teach English in Korea you might highlight your tutoring work for a literacy program in DC, or your coursework on East Asian religion. If you are applying for a science-related award, highlight your research activities or plans, or talk about how you plan to pursue science in the future.

Fifth, it is VERY IMPORTANT to give your recommenders ample time to prepare their letters. Aim to ask them for letters AT LEAST four to six weeks BEFORE recommendations are due.

Sixth, provide them with accurate information about deadlines and submission procedures. If there are forms they should fill out, provide them with those forms. Let them know if the recommendations are to be submitted on-line.

Seventh, it can be extremely helpful if one or more of your recommenders also provide feedback on your application essays or proposals; ask if they would read a draft and provide constructive criticism and suggestions.

Finally, last but not least, don't neglect follow-up! Your recommenders will invest considerable time and thought in preparing your letters, so write them thank you notes and be sure to let them know the outcome of your application. Paper thank you notes or cards are always appreciated!

Again, we strongly advise all national scholarship applicants to discuss their choice of recommenders with the National Scholarships Office staff BEFORE asking for letters. Please contact us at scholarships@umd.edu or (301) 314-9458 with any questions about selecting or approaching your recommenders.