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Letters of Recommendation

Scholarships generally require two-eight letters of recommendation. Scholarship selection committees depend heavily on these letters to gain insight into applicants' personal strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. This kind of information cannot be readily gleaned from transcripts and test scores, so it is in your best interest to help your recommenders write the most accurate and detailed letters possible. Make your choices carefully, gathering strong evaluations from persons who have had an opportunity to observe your academic ability and your personal qualities.

As each scholarship has different criteria for selection and a specified number of recommendations, you should read the application instructions carefully when thinking about whom to ask for letters of support.

When the time comes, you need not feel shy about requesting a recommendation. All faculty members had the same service done for them in the past, and they regard this as a familiar process. Refer to the following guidelines for managing your letter requests.

1. Choose the people who know you best. Many students wonder whether they should ask a "big name" professor who knows only their face and final grade or a less-known professor who knows them better. Letters by well-known scholars only carry more weight if the person knows you well and can write a substantial, convincing letter. The more detailed and personalized a letter is, the more likely it is to make a strong impression on a selection committee, so you should ask your instructors with the most extensive, personal knowledge of you and your work.

2. Contact your professors early. It is common courtesy to allow recommenders at least three to four weeks to prepare and submit their letters. Make an appointment with each of your recommenders to discuss your course work and other interests as well as your plans for graduate school or study abroad. We highly recommend involving them in the early stages of your application process, while you are deciding what to write about and how to present yourself in the application materials. Their insights will prove invaluable, and they will be well informed of your interests when they write their recommendations.

You should begin your request with a substantial conversation about your interests and goals, and then ask them if they can write a strong letter of recommendation. Most likely they will say yes. In some cases, however, the faculty member may say no or that he or she can only write a recommendation citing certain qualifiers or weaknesses. In this case, you should accept his/her judgment graciously and consider asking for more feedback about your goals and plan for study.

3. Once recommenders have agreed to write a letter, it is best to provide them with as much information as possible so that they may write a detailed and strong letter. Depending on the scholarship, you should supply your recommenders with the following:

- the letter of recommendation form from the application

- information about the nature and purpose of the scholarship

- a draft of your personal statement or statement of purpose

- a summary of your career and educational goals

- a copy of a term paper you wrote for their class

- a current resume

- a list of your activities (sports, organizations, leadership and volunteer positions, etc.)

- a description of pertinent work or research experiences

4. Specify a reasonable deadline. Professors are busy, and they write letters out of interest in you and in your future. Given the Dartmouth calendar, they may be on leave when you need to have your recommendations, so check their schedules early. It may take more than one reminder and a longer time than you might expect, so allow at least four weeks from the time of request. Aim to have your file complete prior to the scholarship deadline.

Write out all submission instructions and deadlines stating clearly when, where and how to submit the finished letters. Many scholarships and fellowships are now asking for electronic copies of letters and other application materials.  IF your recommendations must be submitted as hard copies, provide properly addressed, typed, and stamped envelopes to be mailed to the foundation or offer to pick up and deliver letters in sealed envelopes to Scholarship Advising.

5. Keep in touch with your recommenders. After submitting your application, you may want to send recommenders a thank you note expressing your appreciation for their guidance and support. Update them on your progress throughout the stages of the competition and inform them whether you are selected for the award or not. Should you need a recommendation in the future, this kind of follow-up communication will continue to foster a close, positive relationship with your faculty sponsors.

Last Updated: 8/11/10