By tamaraIf you are beginning your scholarship search, you have no doubt come across programs that require an application, a copy of your transcript, and one or more essays. These are common items for most scholarship programs, but many of the larger, more prestigious awards also require another document – the scholarship recommendation letter. Although similar to college admission recommendation letters, this additional component of your scholarship application can often play a vital part in moving your name from the rejection pile to the contenders’ list. With thousands of dollars often on the line, it’s not something that should be handled lightly; it takes some thought and a little planning to ensure you receive a recommendation that will stand out among the other applicants. If you want to secure a winning scholarship recommendation letter, consider the following tips. 1. Ask the Right Person First and foremost, do not ask your family members for recommendation letters, even if they supervise you at work or in another formal arena; it is often too difficult for them to provide an impartial opinion about your abilities and/or potential. Instead, find someone who will provide the best feedback about your experience or capabilities as it relates to the scholarship application. For example, if you are applying for an athletic scholarship, it would make more sense to have your coach or a league official write a letter for you than your math teacher. For academic-based scholarships, consider approaching a teacher, guidance counselor, tutor or a school administrator. If you are applying for an award that is based on your community service or leadership abilities, a staff member or volunteer coordinator from a nonprofit or civic organization would be an excellent choice. Matching the right person to the right scholarship is one of the most important pieces to creating a great letter of recommendation. 2. Be Prepared It’s important to understand that many of the people you may approach to write a letter for you have other responsibilities and obligations. They may also be writing letters for other students, as well. The quickest way to have someone decline to write a recommendation, or provide you with a sub-par letter, is to wait until the last minute to ask for their assistance. Be sure to give everyone you ask a minimum of two to four weeks to complete a letter for you. You should also provide them with a résumé, list of awards and honors, and a brief listing of any formatting or other structural guidelines that must be followed. The more information you can provide, the easier it will be for those writing letters for you to create a masterpiece. 3. Provide Some Direction Although you may be tempted to write the letter yourself, and some people may even ask you to do it, I would advise against it. Scholarship committees are pretty savvy and can usually tell when a student has written his/her own letter of recommendation. Instead, consider providing a brief outline to help direct those who are writing letters for you. Be sure to include the name of the person or committee the letter should be addressed to, as well as specific examples of your work, activities or events that relate directly to the application at hand. For example, if you were applying to the Prudential Spirit of Community Award, you wouldn’t want the letter to focus on your academic achievements because this scholarship is rewarding students for their volunteer service. It’s very important that those writing for you understand the purpose of the scholarship and what the letter should include. 4. Show Your Gratitude Understand that teachers, mentors and other adults are not required to take time from their busy schedules to write letters of recommendation for you; they do it because they believe in you and want to help you succeed. It’s important that you acknowledge their time and efforts by following up with a note or card. If they have written multiple letters, you might even want to drop off some homemade treats or a gift card. Whatever you do, just be sure to say ‘Thank you.’ It’s not only the right thing to do, but also makes it much easier when you need to go back to them for another letter in the future. If your recommendation letters must be sent separately from your application, be sure to supply your writers with envelopes and stamps. It’s also a good idea to place the outgoing address on the envelopes or provide pre-printed labels. Don’t forget to check in about a week before your letters are due to ensure they will be completed on time. It’s not uncommon for people to get distracted, and a gentle reminder may be required to get them back on track. If you follow these simple tips, it will not only make the process simpler for you, but also for those composing your recommendation letters. Just remember that your key to college cash may be just a pen stroke away!