Strong letters of recommendation are key to many application processes. We can help you learn how to request a letter with respect and tact.

Professor Ken Belanger talking to a student at his desk.

Asking for a letter of recommendation may seem daunting or awkward at first. We can advise you on how to request letters with tact, and how to build a team of recommenders that cover the breadth of your engagements, both academic and extracurricular.

Building a dossier of reference letters

  1. When you're exploring a specific application, familiarize yourself with how many letters are required and do some brainstorming about who knows you best in the areas that relate to your goals with this application. You may wish to discuss your list of potential recommenders with ONFS prior to approaching them.
  2. The best recommenders are usually professors, and others who have supervised or observed you in meaningful activities, who know you well and who will be able to discuss in detail your strengths and what makes you a good fit for the award at hand.
  3. Ask well in advance of the deadline. It is important that you give your recommenders plenty of time, so that they are able to write a helpful letter on your behalf. ONFS believes that "plenty of time" equals six weeks in an ideal world. Some people may be able to write them more quickly, but you should do all potential recommenders the courtesy of allowing them to fit your letter into their busy schedules.
  4. Meet with them in person (when possible, Skype/phone if not) to discuss your interests and goals.
  5. Provide them with relevant information about what fellowship(s) you're applying for and why. This should mean sharing with them your application essays and other materials, plus the fellowship websites which describe their selection criteria. You can also point them to our own tips for recommenders page.

Other Tips

  • Important to remember: Letters of recommendation for fellowships and scholarships are confidential, and should always be sent by the recommenders themselves directly to ONFS. Please be aware and inform your recommenders of any special requirements related to your fellowship application.
  • If nominated by Colgate, there may be additional instructions and requirements for your recommenders.┬áSome letters of recommendation may later have to be submitted personally online by the recommender.
  • Keep in touch with your recommenders throughout your application process. Update them on your progress.
  • Share the outcome with your recommenders by making a personal phone call and sending them a thank-you note to express your appreciation for their time and effort.
  • When in doubt, ask ONFS. We can help when you're unsure of next steps, run into technical difficulties, etc.