Asking For ... and Receiving ... Good Letters of
You will need to get a professor (for summer) or two
(for semester-long or longer programs) to write you a
letter of recommendation. If you are going on a program
that has a language requirement, one of these letters
will probably need to be from a professor who knows your
work in the foreign language.
The purpose of the letters of recommendation are
twofold: they tell us that a) you are academically
prepared for a study abroad experience and b) you are
mature enough to manage the additional pressures,
stresses and obligations of being on a study abroad
program. It is important that students do not go on study
abroad until they are ready, nor would it be in the
University's best interest to set you up for failure and
have that reflect poorly on our student body as a whole.
For these reasons, letters of recommendation are
extremely important tools to help IAP determine if you
are eligible to go on a program.
It is preferable that these letters come from UMKC
faculty or staff. Hopefully you have cultivated a
relationship with your professors and they can comment
about your academic strengths and weaknesses, your
motivation for study abroad and whether your goals are
realistic, and whether or not they feel you would be a
good representative of UMKC abroad. If you don't already
have a relationship with a person who can do this for
you, start building it now.
The questions your reference writer should address
How long and in what capacity have you known the
What do you feel are the applicant's
academic/intellectual strengths and weaknesses relevant
to study abroad?
What is your understanding of the applicant's
motivation for studying abroad and do you feel his/her
goals are laudable, realistic and attainable?
Do you feel that the applicant would be a good
representative of UMKC abroad? Why or why not?
Please feel free to include any other information or
insights that you feel would be relevant to this
student's application for study abroad.
How to Ask for
... and Get STRONG Letters of Recommendation
(for scholarships in general)
These are vitally important documents that should
support your application in a variety of ways: they
should talk about you as a person and a scholar; they
should indicate real knowledge and understanding of the
particular fellowships for which you are applying; they
should make clear why the scholarship is important for
your continued development in your chosen field.
[Adapted from a hand out provided by Jane Curlin,
Approach potential recommenders first as advisers.
Get to know them and let them get to know you. Discuss
your larger interests and goals. Ask for their advice
about potential projects, reading, courses of study,
graduate programs etc. These conversations will be
invaluable in themselves, but they will also allow you
to judge who are likely to be your most enthusiastic
recommenders. These meetings will allow those who write
for you to write more informed and more personally
Ask for someone who knows you well and who will be
able to discuss in specific detail what distinguishes
Ask well in advance of the deadline. Two to four
weeks may be adequate. However, you should consult with
the recommender to see how much lead-time is needed.
This is especially true for letters for major
fellowships and for letters to be written over the
Ask: “Do you feel you know me (or my academic
record, my leadership qualities) well enough to write a
strong letter of recommendation for the …. scholarship?”
You have now given the professor the opportunity to
decline gracefully. If the answer is “no,” do not push.
This inquiry may be done via email – if you already have
an established relationship with potential recommender.
Schedule an appointment with your recommender to
discuss the scholarship, its selection criteria, your
most recent and commendable activities, and to suggest
what each recommender is going to say, so that they
can write letters that complement rather than repeat one
Bring to this meeting (or at the very least email):
A current resume or a list of your activities and
honors. Be sure to include internships or work/research
experience, community service, conference
papers/presentations, other creative or leadership
A copy of your personal statement, project proposal,
and/or course of study proposal, or other descriptive
information from the application (information about
career plans, foreign travel experience, or non-academic
interests is sometimes requested). If you have not yet
completed these materials, provide an informal version
in the form of a 1-2 page statement.
Any pertinent reminders about the work you have done
for this professor that will help them highlight what
makes you a strong candidate; past papers or exams are
A copy of your transcript (if applying for a
nationally competitive fellowship). This can be an
unofficial copy and is to give your recommender an
overview of your academic program to-date as well as
your grades. If your grades are not what you think they
should be, be ready to identify any extenuating
circumstances (e.g. family or other responsibilities,
number or level of course taken, etc.)
The official description of the criteria the
recommender’s letter should address and the deadline by
which the letter is due. Supplement this description
with you own suggestions as to what you would like your
recommender to emphasize.
Any coversheets or official recommendation forms
that should accompany the letter. Be sure to complete
any section that pertains to you: name, address to which
the letter should be send, etc. Each scholarship is
different. Make sure you have waived your right to
access under the Family Rights and Privacy Act.
Selection committees often fail to take non-restricted
If you are asking for more than one letter (as for
graduate school or multiple fellowships), provide the
following information on a separate sheet, as well as stamped and addressed envelopes for each fellowship:
To whom each letter should be addressed (individual
or committee, relevant titles, address).
Whether each letter should be mailed directly to the
funding agency (as in the case of the Rhodes, NSF,
Mellon) or remitted to the IAP for the inclusion in the
application packet (Study Abroad Application, HyVile,
The deadline. Be sure to distinguish between a
“postmark” and a “received by” due date.
Ask your referee if she or he would like an example or
two of a letter of recommendation for this particular
fellowship. The Honors and Awards office may have
examples on hand.
Finally, be sure to write you recommenders a note
of thanks and let them know what happens.