3 Steps to Get a Winning Scholarship Reference Letter

So the scholarship committee has gone through every applicant’s essay and transcripts and narrowed it down to a few equally qualified candidates. How do they choose which student to give the scholarship to?  This is where reference letters come into play! Your reference letter may be the difference between making the shortlist and winning the scholarship. So how do you ensure you stand out from the crowd? Here are some simple steps to help you get a winning scholarship reference letter!

What are reference letters?

So first, what are reference letters? These are typically one to two-page letters written about a student on behalf of someone who knows them well. They’re meant to verify the validity of the leadership experiences you discussed in your application and provide insight into the candidate’s character from an outside perspective. 

Scholarships often require students to submit one, two, or even three reference letters with their application. References are typically one of the last things that scholarship committees assess and help to narrow down between shortlisted applicants. 

Who should I ask?

So we get that reference letters are a big deal. Who should you ask to write such an important letter for you? 

You want to approach people in your life that know you well. Aim for people who have known you for at least a year! You also want to choose people who you work with in a formal or professional capacity. Avoid asking family members and friends as scholarship committees view them as biased. Instead, go for teachers, coaches, managers, and volunteer supervisors!

Often, different scholarships will ask for different kinds of references. For example, a sports scholarship might ask for a letter from a coach while another scholarship might require two academic references from teachers. 

We recommend getting letters from a variety of people in your life so that you can pick and choose the best letter for each scholarship. 

Think about the people in your life that you regularly interact with in an academic, athletic, artistic, professional, or volunteer capacity. Choose at least three of them to ask for a scholarship reference letter!

When do I ask?

We recommend getting scholarships at the beginning of the school year, especially if you’re in Grade 12! Many scholarship applications are due as early as October. You want to be sure that you have some stellar scholarship reference letters already on hand so that you can submit your application on time and be less stressed close to the deadline. If you’re asking someone like a teacher that may get a lot of reference letter requests, asking early also helps to make sure that you get first priority. 

How do I ask?

So now for the big question: how do you ask for a letter? 

Your reference needs a few things from you to help them write a stellar scholarship reference letter: 

1. Information about the scholarship you’re applying for

If you’re asking for a letter with a specific scholarship in mind, provide your reference with the name of the award and any other relevant info about it! 

Also be sure to review any guidelines the scholarship might set for reference letters. For example, some may only accept letters that are one page long, while others may require your reference to address certain aspects of your character or your experiences in the letter. Be sure you’re aware of this and communicate this to the person writing the letter!

However, you don’t always need a specific scholarship in mind to ask for a reference letter! You can reuse a reference letter for more than one scholarship. When you request a reference from someone, be sure to ask them if you can use it for multiple applications. Then just change the name and date of the reference letter to fit the scholarship!

2. Your resume or a list of your most recent achievements

You also need to provide your reference with some information about yourself to ensure that they highlight your best qualities! Provide your resume or a list of your most recent achievements. Be sure to also let them know if there are any activities or achievements you would like your reference to highlight or focus on. 

If you’re applying for a specific scholarship, consider sharing the values of the organization offering the scholarship or the criteria they look for in candidates. Then, they can highlight these qualities in you to help demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the scholarship!

For example, if you’re applying to the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award, you might want your reference to highlight key qualities that you share with Terry Fox like resilience and perseverance. 

3. A timeline

Lastly, be sure to provide your reference with a timeline! When do you need the letter back by? Try to set this date a few days before the scholarship deadline to reduce stress and ensure you submit it on time. 

Always try to make sure you give your reference at least two weeks to complete your scholarship reference letter. This is why it is best to ask for references during the first week or two of school starting so that you can have those reference letters done prior to when scholarship applications are due!

Follow all the steps above and you’ll be able to get some stellar reference letters to help you win scholarships!

If you want even more support, GrantMe can help you stand out. We provide personalized scholarship matches, essay editing, and mentorship from past winners to maximize your success. Complete our short scholarship eligibility quiz to learn more about how GrantMe can help you achieve your post-secondary goals. 

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