Etiquette When Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Overview

Letters of Recommendation are one of the most important elements of any scholarship application as they can provide important information about your intellectual abilities or give a well-rounded picture of you as a person. 

Who Should Write a Letter of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation should come from professors or non-academic individuals who can write about significant contributions you are making to society outside of the classroom. Professors will be able to comment on your academic contributions to date, future goals, and research experience he/she has supervised. For students applying to a program that covers graduate school funding, professors can speak to your suitability and preparedness for your selected program. It is advisable to select professors who know you the best, particularly those who are from your field of study. 

If you select a non-academic individual to write a letter of recommendation, be sure to select someone who is directly related to your contributions outside of the classroom. For example, if you are volunteering with a non-profit organization, it would be advisable to ask the director of the organization to write a letter of recommendation provided that the director can make first-hand comments about your contributions.  Other non-academic individuals who are generally acceptable to use may include athletic coaches, religious leaders (ministers, rabbis, imams, etc.), or others who can speak to your qualification for the scholarship.  Letters of recommendation should not be from a family member or personal friend. Letters of recommendation from a TA or graduate assistant or high school teacher/counselor may be submitted for the UC Davis scholarship application.

Here are a few tips for how to get to know individuals that can serve as a recommender:

  • Consistently attend office hours
  • Get involved in research
  • Take more than one class from a faculty member whom you might want to write a recommendation on your behalf
  • Keep in contact with your instructor, so he or she stays current with what you are doing
  • Attend events and volunteer
  • Join clubs and organizations, and take a leadership position

Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

When asking an individual to write a letter of recommendation, it is advisable to do the following to ensure you get the strongest recommendation letters possible both for now and in the future:

  1. Start early. Ideally, contact your recommender 3-4 weeks before the letters are due. Many individuals have busy schedules and you want to allow enough time for the recommender to agree to write a letter, and to write a strong letter. Rushing them might lead to a recommendation that is not as polished or as positive as it could be.
  2. Choose well.  Request recommendations from those who know you, since they will be better equipped to write a compelling recommendation for you. Ask the potential recommenders “do you feel you know me well enough to write a scholarship recommendation for me?”  This allows a person who feels they don’t know you well enough to decline to write a letter and potentially suggest a different individual, which is better than having someone write a generic letter.
  3. Provide helpful information.  If possible, meet with your potential recommender(s) in person and provide some information to them. Specifically, provide information about the scholarship and the broad goals of the program, why you are applying for the scholarship and what you hope to accomplish through your education and career, your resume and/or curriculum vitae (CV), and a copy of your transcript. It is imperative that you provide accurate deadlines and procedures for how the potential recommender will submit his or her letter of recommendation. Follow up at least one week before the letter is due to check in and see if your recommender needs any additional information from you.  If you have begun working on your personal statement, it would be advisable to bring this as well in order to solicit feedback.
  4. Be gracious. Follow up with your recommender(s) to thank them for their time and willingness to write letters on your behalf. This will let them know that you appreciate their efforts and will increase the likelihood that they will write another letter of recommendation in the future. When following up, it is advisable to send hand written thank you notes. If you are selected to interview for a scholarship, or are selected as a winner you will want to make sure your letter writers are aware of this as well.

Prestigious Scholarship Information

Applicants for prestigious scholarships will want to adhere to the guidance provided above while also recognizing a few important distinctions from other scholarship programs.  For prestigious scholarships, a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 8 letters of recommendation will be required with programs generally requiring 3-4. It is advisable to have more individuals who are willing to write letters of recommendation than are required. This will allow the student to put together the best possible group of letters of recommendation.

Due to the large number of letters of recommendation being requested and the highly competitive nature of the prestigious scholarships, students should ideally request letters of recommendation 4-6 weeks prior to their being due and should provide their writers with information about the program to which they are applying. Letters of recommendation should generally be from academic sources, though specific programs may allow non-academic sources to write letters if the student has had substantial involvement with the individual or organization the individual represents. Letter writers should never be from high school or teachers’ assistants and should only come from graduate assistants in the most extraordinary of circumstances.