photo of students and an instructor in a classroomLetters should come from professors who are familiar not only with your academic abilities, but also with your personal interests and background, and how those relate to your potential success. Approach letter writers as soon as possible. Remember that professors and other instructors are quite busy and will need some time, usually a few weeks, to work on a good letter of recommendation. When you are approaching the recommender, discuss your plans and let them know what you hope to study and why you want to apply. These discussions may help you clarify your plans and will help reestablish your relationships with your recommenders. Provide them with a written description of the scholarship and copies of your personal statement, proposed academic program, transcripts and activities/honors list. Hand this material to them personally; do not leave it in their mailboxes.

Ideally, you'll have a letter from a full professor, known in his or her field, who knows you well. Students often ask if letters from graduate assistants are appropriate. The general consensus seems to be that letters from people who know you are more valuable than letters from well-known people who do not know you. The best strategy, however, is to cultivate relations with professors early on in your academic career. A mixture of letters from well-known and less well-known professionals would work better (depending on how many letters are required for the application). Non-academic letters should discuss your volunteer and/or leadership experience. Do not use letters from relatives or family friends.

Recommenders should address only those elements of your application on which they can comment confidently. Effective letters of recommendation are detailed, specific, and contextualize your achievements. It is helpful if the recommender can attest to the appropriateness of your proposed program or suitability to the award.

Supply your referee with a copy of your resume. Let them know where can be reached for answers to their questions. Direct them to websites with information on the scholarships for which you are applying. If these scholarships provide forms for referees, be sure that your referees have copies or know how to access them on the web. Know, and inform your referees in writing whether the completed reference letters are to be sent to you or to the scholarship foundation. Be sure that they understand whether the letter must be sent with a signature across the envelope seal. Above all, let them know the deadlines for submission. When requesting a recommendation, supply your referee with a stamped, self-addressed envelope if the letter is to be mailed. If it is not, supply a plain white, business-sized envelope of good quality paper. Remember to fill in those parts of the reference form that ask for your input; do not expect your referee to fill in this information about the candidate.

Approach letter-writers as soon as possible. Remember that professors and other instructors are quite busy and will need some time, usually a few weeks, to work on a good letter of recommendation. When you are approaching the recommender, discuss your plans and let them know what you hope to study and why you want to apply. These discussions may help you clarify your plans and will help reestablish your relationships with your recommenders. Provide them with a written description of the scholarship and copies of your personal statement, proposed academic program, transcripts and activities/honors list.