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Letters of Recommendation for Scholarships

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Scholarship application letters of recommendation: use for scholarship applications and school admission

Much of the advice we give for college letters of recommendation and student letters of recommendations apply to letters of recommendation for scholarships as well. However, there are several points that are particular to the scholarship arena that I'd like to cover here... 

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Financial Need

Much of what motivates scholarship awards is financial need. You can be the most incredible candidate in the world, but if the school thinks you don't need to money, it is unlikely to give it to you - especially if there are other candidates with hard-luck stories that are competing with you. This is in contrast with business, of course; businesses will generally hire what they believe to be the best candidate for a job. Not necessarily so with academia; there's - they will tell you - is a more "enlightened" approach.

That being the case, it is important to highlight a candidates needs in a letter of recommendation. In fact, a letter of recommendation may be one of the most important places to discuss this kind of information.

Obviously, financial need is established with official-looking documents like W-2 forms and tax returns, but just as important to describe for the scholarship committee is hardship - the ways that financial need affects the candidate on a personal level.

These are the kinds of things that should be mentioned...

  1. Deprivation: What has the candidate had to learn to do without? 
  2. Industriousness: How has this deprivation motivated the candidate to try harder? 
  3. Lost Opportunity: How has this deprivation resulted in missing out on deserved opportunities? 

This last issue - lost opportunities - is the most effective. In particular, cover how not receiving the scholarship will lead to a less satisfying outcome for the candidate, the school, and even to society.

Schools see scholarships as investments; highlight how the investment in your candidate will provide the best return to all concerned.

Having the Right Angle

It is important that the recommender is clearly someone who would have an insider's view on all of this. The best recommender might be a friend, a counselor, or teacher - but it has to be someone close enough to the candidate to comment on issues of financial need and its effects on the candidate with some credibility.

If more than one letter of recommendation is being submitted, then only one really needs to explore these issues; the rest can be more standard fare.

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