How to Get a Killer Letter of Recommendation for a Scholarship Application

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Along with an essay and transcript, you’ll likely need a recommendation letter for your scholarship application. A strong letter can go a long way toward helping you get money for college.

Even though a teacher, coach or other adult will write the letter, there’s a lot you can do to make sure it stands out.

How to get an outstanding recommendation letter for a scholarship

Here’s how to go about getting a letter of recommendation for your scholarship application the right way. By taking these five steps, you’ll be that much closer to gaining financial support for college.

1. Find a teacher or mentor who knows you well
2. Ask at least a month before your deadline
3. Share all the details of the scholarship
4. Provide a thoughtful ‘brag sheet’ and resume
5. Follow up with a thank-you note

1. Find a teacher or mentor who knows you well

Your first step to getting a strong recommendation letter for a scholarship is asking the right person to write it. Choose someone who you’re close to who can speak to your strengths.

This person should agree to write you a customized letter, rather than a generic one they use for every student. Ideally, they should also connect with the theme of the scholarship.

“Make a list of individuals who … fit the scholarship profile,” advised college admissions coach Pam Andrews. “For an academic merit scholarship, ask teachers you had in math, science, or other core academic subjects. For leadership or community service scholarships, ask a community leader or leader of the organization where you volunteered.”

Not only should your recommender know you well, but they also should have worked with you in the context of the scholarship. That way, they can write a letter that proves just how much you deserve to win.

2. Ask at least a month before your deadline

Once you’ve selected your recommender, make your request at least a month in advance of your deadline. Some students even ask in the spring of their junior year for recommendation letters they will need in the fall.

“Remember the adage ‘the early bird gets the worm,’” said JP Figdor, a director at college counseling company Empowerly. “Teachers and other recommenders will have many people asking them for letters of recommendation. Make sure your request is one of the first they hear.”

If you ask at the last minute, your teacher will have to rush to put together a letter. It probably won’t be their best work, and it won’t help your chances of winning the scholarship very much. Your teacher might even decline if they’re too busy.

To get the best letter you can — and stay in your teacher’s good graces — ask for your letter well ahead of your deadline.

3. Share all the details of the scholarship

Assuming your teacher agrees, your next step is to share everything they need to know about the scholarship. Send your recommender an email explaining:

  • What the scholarship is for
  • When the deadline is
  • How to submit their letter
  • What the letter should focus on

“Provide your recommender with the background information on the scholarship-granting organization, and make sure you share the eligibility requirements so that they know exactly what the committee is looking for,” advised Jessica Johnson, founder of The Scholarship Academy and recipient of $200,000 in scholarship money.

“The recommendation letter should be tailored to reflect the respective organization’s core values and mission,” she added.

You might not realize you can make suggestions for the recommendation letter for your scholarship. But most teachers appreciate any direction you can give.

4. Provide a thoughtful ‘brag sheet’ and resume

Even if you have a great relationship with your teacher, they might not remember your amazing thesis project or all the insightful comments you made in class. That’s why you should write up a “brag sheet” to remind them of your achievements, as well as share some of your goals.

Many high school counselors distribute brag sheets to students in their junior or senior years. These worksheets typically pose a number of personal questions, like:

  • What are some academic and personal achievements you’re most proud of?
  • What’s an experience that had a significant impact on you?
  • What three positive adjectives best describe you?
  • What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What major are you considering for college? What led you to choose that major?

If your counseling department doesn’t provide a template, you could write up your own. Sharing an updated resume with your GPA, extracurricular activities and any awards you’ve received could help your recommender.

“Share very concrete bullet points about your accomplishments and challenge your recommender to write about … the qualities that would make you stand out from other applicants,” said Johnson.

Even if you have a close relationship with your recommender, you can’t expect them to remember everything about you. A brag sheet and resume will jog their memory so they can craft a letter unique to you.

5. Follow up with a thank-you note

Once your recommender submits their letter, don’t forget to thank them for their help. Show your appreciation with a thoughtful email or a handwritten thank-you card. And if you win the scholarship, make sure to let them know and thank them again for their assistance.

Their letter of recommendation for your scholarship could have been that special “X factor” that put your application over the edge.

Letters of recommendation for scholarships play a big role

Many scholarship committees aren’t just interested in your grades and test scores. They’re curious about who you are and what role you play in your school and community.

“Letters of recommendation distinguish students and give [scholarship committees] the unique perspective needed,” said high school counselor Rachel Berlin. “Test scores and grades do not show committees the personal side of applicants — the letters of recommendation bring candidates to life.”

Effective letters can advocate for you in a powerful way. By choosing your recommender thoughtfully, you’ll be well on the way to winning scholarship money and covering the cost of college.

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0.00%4Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.05% – 11.44%5Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.22% – 11.66%6Undergraduate and Graduate

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1.15% – 11.01%7Undergraduate and Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS

1.24% – 10.34%8Undergraduate

Visit Discover

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
 
This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a first year graduate student borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.10% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $141.66 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $16,699.21. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.


2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.  If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

FundingU Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.


5 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

  1. Rates include 0.25% Auto Pay Discount
     
  2. Explanation of Rates “With Autopay” (APD)
    Rates shown include 0.25% APR discount when client agrees to make monthly principal and interest payments by automatic electronic payment. Use of autopay is not required to receive an Earnest loan.

    Available Terms
    For Cosigned loans – 5, 7, 10, 12, 15 years. 
    Primary Only – 10, 12, 15 years

    In school deferred payment is not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, and WA).


6 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

sofiDisclosures

UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).


7 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.15% – 11.01% (1.15% – 10.24 APR)Fixed interest rates range from 4.18% – 11.70% (4.18% – 10.83% APR).

Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 10.66% (1.89% – 10.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.64% – 11.23%% (4.64% – 10.95% APR).

Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 9.22% (1.89% – 8.50% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.38% – 10.44% (4.38% – 9.72% APR).

Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.89% – 8.02% (1.89% – 7.72% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.28% – 9.24% (4.28% – 8.94% APR).

Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.97% – 7.06% (1.97% – 7.06% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.94% – 8.58% (4.94% – 8.58% APR).

Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.44% – 9.58% (4.44% – 9.52% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.83% APR).

Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.53% – 7.03% (3.53% – 6.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.98% – 10.09% APR).

Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of June 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.09%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. 

Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.

Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer.  Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.

Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.


8 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable margin percentage. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 0.250% as of April 1, 2021. Discover Student Loans may adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Our lowest APR is only available to applicants with the best credit. The APR will be determined after an application is submitted. It will be based on credit history, the selected repayment option and other factors, including a cosigner’s credit history (if applicable). If a student does not have an established credit history, the student may find it difficult to qualify for a private student loan on their own or receive the lowest advertised rate. Learn more about Discover Student Loans interest rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates.
  2. Aggregate loan limits apply.

  3. Get a cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan when you earn at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in any academic period covered by the loan. Limitations Apply. Visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for terms and conditions. 

Lowest APRs shown for Discover undergraduate loans are available to the most creditworthy applicants, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.1