Scholarships & Schools 101: Getting and Keeping References

You want to get into the best schools, and pay for your education, but to do both you need references. You begin applying for schools and scholarships, until you realize that you need to get 3 reference letters for each scholarship or application. What next?

Finding Referees

In order to find referees, you need to determine how many references you need. Do you need 18 reference letters? Do you need 7 online forms filled out? Do you simply need the contact information for 3 references?

Once you have established how many references you will need, you can figure out how many people will meet that need. Often, to get 30 or more references, you will only need 3 or 4 people. Once your referee writes you the first letter, the hard work is done. It often doesn’t take too long to have your references tailored for each application.

It is also important to establish what type of reference you need. Do you need to have all academic references from teachers and professors? Or can you have a few references from community sources? Take this into consideration when planning your references.

Asking for References

You now need to ask for references. When you ask for a reference, be specific. Say, “Will you please be my reference for my application to X college? I need you to fill in an electronic application by November 12th.”

Ask someone that you trust to give you a good reference, and someone that will be organized enough to complete the package properly. You don’t want your application to suffer because of another person’s mistakes.

Reference Packages

Your referees are busy people. You need to make their lives easier by organizing as much of it as you can for them. You can do everything short of writing the letter itself.

If you want them to do more than one reference for you, make it easy on them by giving them a sheet of paper with the references you need by when. Make sure that each one is clearly labeled with specific instructions (for instance: you might need some in duplicate and some in triplicate). If your reference is submitting the letter themselves, then give them a stamped, addressed envelope. If your reference is returning the letter to you, make sure that you pick up the envelope when you say you will. Be sure to have them sign across the seal!

Your references want to write a good letter. Help them out by giving them a cheat sheet. On this sheet you should explain that you are jogging their memories. Write how long you have known them, what courses you have taken with them, and any accomplishments that you achieved with their help.

Include your resume or curriculum vitae in your reference package. You want to keep everyone up-to-date on your accomplishments. You should also include any essays that you had to write for your scholarship or university application. This means that your referees will be able to make direct mention of your future plans and how well-suited you are to the program.

Organizing your References

You need to keep master list of what applications are due when. You will want to have on this list who your references are for each subject. Check off each reference after you have received it or know that it has been sent.

Give your references time to write the letter. You don’t want them to write a rushed letter. Give yourself time to finish the application. Letting them know early means that you can give them a deadline that is a few days before the actual deadline. This will ensure that all of your materials get where they need to be on time.

Thanking your References

Each person who writes you a reference should get a thank you card. This card will explain what you have chosen to do. Explain what school you are going to, what scholarships you have received, and acknowledge your referee’s part in the process. Even if you did not get what you applied for, let your reference know. For extra-helpful references, you might even consider getting a box of chocolates or flowers.

Thanking your referees keeps them happy. If they are happy, then they will write you letters later when you need it. You never know when you will need another reference. And, who knows…one day you might be writing reference letters yourself!