You’ve decided who to ask about writing your letters of recommendation, but how do you go about making it all happen? Start out by approaching each person with an air of humble gratitude and a flattering eagerness to be represented by the best. If someone you’ve selected says, “I’m sorry, but I’m too busy,” or “Not a chance! I’ve never really liked you and I’ve started a petition to keep you out of any and all colleges,” be polite and understanding. You can make a voodoo doll and fill it with pins later—after all your scholarship applications are turned in on time. To minimize turn downs, follow these easy guidelines that will help your letter gathering run smoothly:
1. Make it Easy!
Don’t expect the busy adults in your life to bend over backward for you until their poor spines crack! The people you approach for recommendations will appreciate that you took the time and initiative to prepare everything they’ll need for the job you are asking them to perform. Their cooperation level and the quality of their letters will reflect this appreciation!
2. Start Early
Just as with every other aspect of the scholarship application process, it is essential that you not wait until the last minute to ask for the letters of recommendation. The best way to end up with a sloppy, poorly conceived letter is to say to a recommender, “I need this finished by tomorrow night, okay?” In such a situation, you’ll be lucky to get even a sloppy letter, instead of a flat-out refusal! Thanks to modern technology, today’s adults check their e-mail, update their Facebook pages, while still finding the time to do laundry and dishes. They are busy, busy people, and if you don’t give them plenty of time to prepare, it’s just not happening. Your emergency is not their emergency.
3. Provide All Information
Don‘t leave your benefactors scratching their heads and wondering what to write about you. Some, like teachers, for example, will have a ton of recommendation letters under their belts already, and they will probably be able to accept your request and run with it. For others, yours could be the first letter of recommendation that they’ve ever written. A good strategy to help everyone out is to prepare an information packet to hand over when you ask each recommender to represent you. If you are worried about offending the person with your proactive preparation, open with a statement like, “I have gathered together this information that I hope you find to be a helpful reference while writing my recommendation. Somebody else wanted me to provide these materials for him, so I’m giving them to everybody I ask, just in case.” Chances are, your recommenders will be grateful for any assistance that will make the job easier!
Your information packet could include:
- A guideline for structuring the letter, like the one I offered earlier
- An article from the Web about how to write a good scholarship recommendation
- Any forms/instructions from the sponsor on how the letters should be presented
- Information about the individual scholarship(s), including the purpose, qualifications, etc.
- A sheet that lists out your achievements, awards, and anything else that will look good in a recommendation letter
- A resume of your past employment history/volunteer work
- A copy of a recommendation letter you’ve already received from someone
- An addressed and stamped envelope, if the letter needs to be mailed separately
Now that you’ve put all that information together, you could almost write your letter yourself? In most cases, that is definitely a bad idea. But sometimes… Check back soon for great ideas on how to get the most from your recommenders.