Working With References

Choose your reference letter writers wisely, and help them help you.

  • Your references should be professionals:  university faculty, research mentor, advisor, internship coordinator, nonprofit director where you have volunteered, employer in your field, etc. The best references are usually professionals you have worked closely with over time and whom you know well and in multiple contexts.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask potential references if they can give you a strong, positive recommendation.
  • If references seem unwilling or uneasy, don’t push. And don’t ever ask someone who does not know you personally, regardless of title!
  • Give references all possible information about the scholarship organization’s mission and the specific criteria for evaluation, as well as your own background. (Specifics below.)
  • Ask early! Give them plenty of time--a month is courteous.
  • Tell each reference one or two specific things you would like him/her to address: this helps keep your recommendations from being too similar and sounding formulaic.
  • Give your references a "gentle reminder" close to the deadline, with your thanks.
  • If necessary, nag.  Politely!

Put together a packet of info for each reference containing:

  • Resume
  • Unofficial transcript
  • Draft of a personal statement
  • List of courses taken with that person, if a faculty member
  • Info on the scholarship including web address, scholarship mission and description, criteria for selection, how to submit the letter, scholarship website link to recommender advice and instructions if available, and deadline (including the NAU internal deadline if applicable).


  1. Please request that recommendation letters and forms BE SENT TO ME DIRECTLY at prior to the writer uploading to the scholarship website (if that is your scholarship's procedure). That way I can make suggestions on improvements if needed. 

  2. Please ask writers to SEE MY TIPS FOR RECOMMENDERS WEBPAGE for great advice on writing recommendations for major scholarships, which is not the same as writing grad school or job application letters. Or you can make a printout of the webpage for them.