As the Washington CPA Foundation Scholarship deadline approaches on February 14th and applications are just beginning to trickle in for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship, we wondered why so many students struggle with the deadline or let it slip by entirely. We get feedback from students that the letter of recommendation is the most challenging part of completing their application. Many students feel intimidated asking for this favor, or worry they don’t have a strong enough relationship with a professor or mentor. They may put it off entirely, and then feel double the guilt and pressure when they now have to ask under a shorter deadline.
Below are some tips to help you clinch those stellar recommendation letters that could nab you one of our $5,000 scholarships and hopefully more awards in the future.
Whom Do I Ask? You should start brainstorming early. Even if you don’t plan to start the essay question for another month, begin to think about the best person in relation to this position/scholarship, etc. Sometimes a non-academic reference such as a counselor, TA, church leader or volunteer coordinator may be the best bet. Just be sure to follow the application guidelines. Most importantly, make sure the person you ask will write something favorable. A great way to ensure this is to ask them if they feel comfortable writing you a strong recommendation. Though it seems like an imposition to ask for a letter, remember that everyone has been in your position in the past and understands what it feels like, and that most professors consider this a part of their job.
When Do I Ask? It’s a good idea to give them at least 3-4 weeks’ notice. Two is usually acceptable, but don’t forego a great opportunity if you need something sooner. An appeal like this may help: “I just found out about this amazing scholarship opportunity/job opportunity but need a letter of recommendation by Monday. I hate to impose, but if I provided you with a letter of intent and resume do you think you could find time to help?”
What Do I Provide? As stated above, include a letter of purpose that explains what you are applying for, how you are a good fit and why you think that person can give the most valuable insight on you as a candidate (this is the time to flatter them a little). Give them a name if possible to address the letter to and avoid the blanket “To Whom It May Concern.” Finally, include your resume.
How Do I Check In On Progress? If you are really proactive and want to ensure you have plenty of time to get documents together, you can ask for an earlier due date than you really need. No matter what, check in at about a week from your deadline to ask if there is any additional information they need from you. If they are sending it directly to the company/website/email address, ask them to just send you a quick email when it’s done so you can cross it off your list.
What If I Don’t Have Anyone I Can Ask? You have some work to do if you can’t find anyone to ask for a letter of recommendation. Set yourself up for next year’s scholarships and future career needs now. Think about the professors from whom you would like to have recommendations. Take more than one class with them if at all possible, and consistently visit during office hours. You can also attend Department Events (bonus points for volunteering to help) or join clubs they advise and take on leadership positions. To really be in the best position to ask for letters of recommendation, you have to plan early and put yourself out there.
We hope you’ll use this information to secure your recommendations for the Washington CPA Foundation Scholarships.