Reference letters

For faculty

References are a key element of the application package of students applying for major scholarships. The process of evaluating students for these competitive awards now routinely takes account of many areas of activity and accomplishment beyond a student's canonical academic record (e.g., research competence and accomplishments, communication and interpersonal skills, community engagement, leadership abilities). 

Because all students whose applications go forward have strong academic records, it is therefore critical that references explicitly address these other areas. The specific additional elements that are relevant to emphasize can vary among scholarship programs, so it is important for referees to familiar themselves with the priorities of the specific program for which the reference is being provided. It is also essential to obtain and review a copy of the proposed project so as to speak specifically to the merits of their proposed course of research or study.

For students

References are critical to the strength of an application for scholarships. When choosing your referees, it is important to pick individuals who have very good knowledge of your academic abilities and accomplishments, and who also have first-hand knowledge of your research experience, competence and accomplishments.

At the same time, they should be able to speak to your communication and interpersonal skills, and additional relevant experiences or abilities (e.g., volunteer organizations, community engagement experience, leadership activities) to be able to evaluate and characterize you as a well-rounded individual. To assist referees in this, you should prepare a comprehensive CV or Resume outlining these activities, in addition to providing them with a copy of your academic record (a copy of your transcripts). You should also provide your referees with the instructions from the agency to which you are applying, so that they can tailor their letter and your experiences to the priorities of that specific agency.

Remember: a referee's job is to help you put your best foot forward; and your job is to make that easy for them!