Recommendation Letter Tips

Below are resources for both students and recommenders to enhance their recommendation letter processes.

Asking for a Recommendation

Who to Ask?

  • The more detailed, personalized a letter is, the more likely it is to make a strong impression on a selection committee. Ask someone who knows you well and can write a substantial, convincing recommendation.
  • Advisors for student organizations, employers, research supervisors, or directors of volunteer programs are all options for letters for most National Fellowships. Check the guidelines given in the application requirements to see who can provide the recommendations or the specific content they are looking for.
  • Do NOT ask friends or family members to write letters of recommendation.

What to Ask?

  • Be sure to specifically ask, “Do you feel you can write a strong recommendation on my behalf?
  • If someone does not think they can write strongly on your behalf, it is better that they tell you that up front so you can find another recommender. This makes sure you have the best option possible speaking to your strengths and character in the recommendation.

How to Ask?

  • Ask politely, professionally, and confidently.
  • Ask well in advance give your writers 4 to 6 weeks before the deadline.
  • Provide the materials that would help your recommender write a stronger letter! This may include your resume or CV with extracurricular activities, projects, awards, etc.. You may also want to include a draft of your application essays, and a summary of your career and educational goals.
  • Explain why you are asking them specifically to write you a letter.
  • Make sure you are clear in what you are asking for. Give your recommenders a description of the award, a link to the award website for more information, why you think you are a strong candidate, and the selection criteria. Be sure to include the formatting requirements for their letter, the deadline, and how to submit the letter.
  • Be sure to include the formatting requirements for their letter, the deadline, and how to submit the letter.
  • Email the recommender when initially asking for letters of recommendation. This gives your writer the chance to process the information on their own time and have all of the things regarding it right in front of them to consider. In the email you can offer to set up a meeting to discuss further if they wish. If a meeting occurs, be sure to bring two printed copies of the material that go with your award with you. One copy is for their use and one is for yours.
  • If asking in person be sure to bring two printed copies of the materials that go with your award with you. One copy is for their use and one is for yours.

Writing Strong Recommendations for Competitive Opportunities

By their nature, national and international scholarships and fellowships are extremely competitive. Embry-Riddle students are competing against students from colleges and universities throughout the country. A strong, effusive recommendation letter is vital for a strong application package. Moreover, such letters can be the reason an applicant is selected. Because of this, we ask you to take the responsibility of writing a recommendation seriously.

When a student contacts you seeking a recommendation letter, they are asking because they are confident that you know them and their work well. They are also hoping that you will speak highly of them in your recommendation, boosting their application for that opportunity. If you do not believe you know the student well enough to write a detailed letter, would prefer not to, or cannot meet the deadline, please let the student know as soon as possible and politely decline the request.

Audience and Length

  • Reviewers will be your professional colleagues throughout the country. For some awards, reviewers will be those in your professional field. Thus, you’ll want to think about who the reviewers are as you write to guide your use of discipline-specific language.
  • Typically, letters cannot exceed two pages. In most circumstances, your letter should, at minimum, fill one page single-spaced. Strive for 1.5 pages when writing for a strong candidate and a full two pages when writing for an outstanding candidate.

Preparing to Write

  • Applicants should provide you with an updated CV/resume and a draft of their application materials. If necessary, ask the student for additional information about the opportunity and why they’re applying. You can also have a frank conversation with the applicant about your ability to write a strong letter and what you can and cannot say based on your knowledge of them. Being upfront with students about this helps them see how their application package is coming together as a whole.
  • The strongest letters are tailored to both the applicant and the opportunity. They explicitly discuss why the applicant is a strong candidate for the specific opportunity. Each scholarship seeks a slightly different mix of three main characteristics: academic merit, leadership, and future promise. This last criterion can vary from ambassadorial potential (Marshall Scholarship) to citizen diplomacy (Gilman and Fulbright Scholarships) to innovative scientific research (Goldwater Scholarship). Think about how the applicant exemplifies these selection criteria and include specific examples of how they do so. If you aren’t sure what the selection criteria are, reach out to our office for more information.

Content and Origanization

  • As the recommender, your job is to tell the review panel the story of the applicant from your point of view. It can be tempting to list the best characteristics of an applicant, stating them without detail. However, using an example, story, or anecdote about how the applicant demonstrated those attributes is more effective because it helps the reader see how the applicant has demonstrated those skills. In addition, try to place the student in a larger context by comparing them to other students.
  • Your letter should begin with an introduction which identifies the candidate, the opportunity being applied for, and your relationship with the applicant. You should also briefly preview what is to come in the remainder of the letter. The content can be organized either chronologically or thematically, depending on your preference. The letter should conclude with a clear statement about your endorsement of the applicant for the position.

Style and Tone

  • Ideally, each letter you write will be as unique as the applicant you’re writing about. You should convey your familiarity with the student, which you can do by referring to them by their first name, sharing a personal interaction you had with them, or describing how your impressions of the applicant have changed over time.
  • Effective use of active verbs and transitions is crucial. Transitions provide contextual clues which help reviewers understand the applicant’s path and experiences. Give praise using appropriate adjectives then back this up with examples. Avoid using hyperbole or excessive superlatives, especially if these are unsupported by specific anecdotes or stories.

Deadlines and Submission

  • Please submit your letters at least 48 hours before the deadline. This provides time for resolving any technical issues which may arise. Follow all provided instructions for submission. This includes double-checking the formatting (margins, font size, page length, use of letterhead) and any other requirements (e.g. uploading a certain file type, ensuring there’s a physical signature, etc.). Note that while many opportunities will require you to directly upload your letter to their online system, some (such as the Goldwater and Udall Scholarships) require submission of your letter to our office.
  • Note that while many opportunities will require you to directly upload your letter to their online system, some (such as the Goldwater and Udall Scholarships) require submission of your letter to our office.

Bias in Recommendation Letters

  • Unconscious racial and gender biases can hinder the letters of recommendation for womxn and people of color. Pay attention to the adjectives you use and how these may be used differently to evaluate people of different social groups. Research shows that recommendation letters for men are four times more likely to mention publications and are 16% longer on average than those for womxn. The same is true of letters for people of color compared to letters for white applicants. Keep this in mind as you compose your letters. For more information, see this 1 pager on avoiding gender bias in reference writing from the University of Arizona. You can also find online gender bias calculators here.