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How to Get a Great Scholarship Reference, part 2: How and When to Ask

Now that you know who you're asking, how and when should you do so?

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A woman celebrates the glowing letter of reference she's received.

In part one, we discussed who to ask to be a scholarship reference. Today, we'll look at how and when to ask for a reference.

First off, you need to know that it's your responsibility to ensure your referee has everything they need to give you a great reference. Odds are good your referee is a busy person with many responsibilities. It's up to you to give your referee all of the information they need, in a timely manner, so they are able to write the best possible reference for you.

How and when to ask for a reference

You can ask for a reference in person, by telephone, or by email. However, if you ask by phone or in person, you should always follow it up with an email so the person has the information in writing. Your email may also serve as a reminder for them.

How far in advance should you request a reference? Two to three weeks is usually a good rule of thumb. Most people you ask will say yes, but sometimes a person is unable to do so. In this case you'll need to ask someone else — always have a backup referee, just in case, and give yourself enough time to approach them.

Many people like to help students reach their goals, so try not to be intimidated when asking someone to be a referee. Sometimes it's even considered part of their job to provide students with a reference.

Materials to provide to your referee

Let's assume your preferred referee agrees to write you a letter. Be prepared to give them the items they will need to provide the reference. Here are some things to consider sharing with your referee:

  • A copy of the scholarship application, or a link to it online. Indicate where they can find the reference instructions and tell them the deadline to submit the reference.
  • A copy of your resumé and extracurricular activities list, as well as your cover letter, if applicable.
  • Any other information you feel would be helpful for them to get a better overall picture of your skills and experience. However, don't send them everything under the sun! Only provide information specific to this purpose.
  • Make sure to thank your referee if they agree to provide a reference. Tell them you'll send a reminder to them about 3 days before the deadline. Put this date in your calendar, and be sure to send it! Many referees appreciate this kind of reminder.
  • Let them know you will inform them if the result is positive (that is, if you get the scholarship). If you win, do so! Referees love to get this news. Let them share in your success!

Good luck!

Janet MacDonald is a former university admissions officer who helps high school students and parents to find and prepare university scholarships through her company, MycampusGPS.ca. She offers one-to-one scholarship consulting for high school students, and scholarship essay writing workshops. Janet's blog is one of the top education blogs in Canada.

Modified on August 01, 2019

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