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Letters of Recommendation (Scholarships)

Hello!

We are currently building our scholarship application and are considering making some changes in regards to letters of recommendation. Previously, we have asked students to request two letters of recommendation and upload them to their applications. We often receive form letters and have heard from our committees that these aren't useful for the selection process.

For our upcoming scholarship round, we'll be asking for one letter of recommendation and using the third party question tool. We are considering having recommenders fill out a short questionnaire or giving them a specific prompt rather than having them upload a letter.

We would love to hear feedback on this idea and about different approaches to letters of recommendation! Do you ask for letters of recommendation? If so, how many? Do your recommenders receive any kind of prompt/fill out specific questions? If so, what does this look like, and have you received any feedback on this

Thank you!

MikaylaValeTracyLarimer

Comments

  • Hi Elena! I'm a Solutions Engineer here at Foundant, but prior to that I spent 14 years working for 2 different community foundations, as a grants and scholarship manager. I look forward to hearing what others have to say in response to your post, but I thought I'd offer my two cents as well.

    At The Dallas Foundation, we definitely saw the struggle of receiving form letters that aren't helpful for our selection committees. After some thoughtful discussion, our group decided to stop asking for a letter, and start handling these recommendations in one of two different ways. A few committees wrote specific prompts for the recommenders to follow. Something much more thoughtful and specific to that particular scholarship opportunity. (For example, a nursing scholarship asked for a recommendation from an instructor who could speak to the student's growth in the nursing program, specifically around challenges they've overcome and any special circumstances they were aware of and could speak to.) A few other committees chose to go the route of straight forward questions to have the recommenders answer. This idea surfaced after reading letter after letter after letter from the same teacher (probably a student favorite!) and we felt awful for adding more to her already full plate. We never wanted to ask more of teachers, who clearly write these letters on their own time. Using SLM, you could build out a third party section, but instead of asking for a file upload, you could craft a series of questions to which the recommender responds. After kicking off this option, we heard great feedback from the recommenders. They no longer had to edit a form letter, or sit and write a brand new letter; they simply followed the link, and selected the best answers to the small handful of questions posed about that specific student.

    Hope to see others share some ideas here. I really think this change is a popular topic. The last time I attended the NSPA conference I chatted with so many different foundations about this subject.

    MikaylaValeElenaKeltzTomWickershamMelissaElsfelder
  • Hi Elena,

    We don't use formal letters of recommendation, however, students are prompted to add two references who will fill out a form on their behalf - this utilizes the third-party question tool. The reference form is 6 questions where they rate the student on a scale of 1-5, then they have the option to leave comments ("Is there anything else you'd like us to know about this applicant?"). This is where references will sometimes paste in a letter of recommendation, but mostly it ends up being a few sentences about the student. I think the typical reference spends about 5-10 minutes filling out the form (which they receive a link to the form in their email). With the scale below, we do tend to see that majority will just give students all 5s, even though it's meant to be "superior", so that's something to consider.

    I think what you are considering with a specific prompt/asking a few short questions will help get more specific, helpful responses. Some general ideas I've heard from other scholarship providers are "In what ways does this student demonstrate integrity?" "How have you seen this student grow?" "How does this student interact with their peers?" This is not something we are currently doing, but I think it is an area for us to explore. The biggest thing to consider is what purpose is/was the letter of recommendation serving? Once you answer that, it'll help figure out what seems like the best option for your org.

    Here's the ratings form we use.

    1 = Below Average, 2 = Average, 3 = Good, 4 = Excellent, 5 = Superior

    Dependable (R1)*

    Hard Working (R1)*

    Meets Challenges (R1)*

    Resourceful (R1)*

    Sets and Achieves Goals (R1)*

    Works Well with Others (R1)*

    Good luck, and let us know what you end up doing since I'm curious about this topic too!

    Thanks,

    Danielle Fleer

    LynsieLaughlinTomWickersham
  • For those who were on the User Group Zoom call today, this is how our Third Party reference section is introduced to the scholarship applicants. For about 300-400 applications, I get less than 5-10 calls/emails to change out who the reference is after the application is submitted.

    _____________

    REFERENCES

    Each reference will be asked to complete a short online Reference Questionnaire. The Reference Questionnaire must be submitted by each reference no later than March 2nd at 5:00pm.

    DO NOT list someone as a reference unless you are sure that he/she will complete the Reference Questionnaire. References who do not respond will negatively affect your overall ranking for a scholarship award, but will not disqualify you.

    It is recommended that you send your request for a reference well in advance of the due date. Frequently, references are not received by the due date if the request has been made less than one week prior to the deadline.

    DO NOT call the Pedrozzi Scholarship office to inquire about the status of the Reference Questionnaires. Instead, you will be able to check the status of your Reference Questionnaires at any time by logging into your Pedrozzi account and viewing the status of "Third Party Responses" on your home page. For further details, you can click "Edit Application" or "View Application" and scroll to the "Reference" section of your application. Visit Pedrozzi.org to see further instructions on how to verify Reference status.

    _____________

    On our website, we link to this page that has screenshots and guides them how to check what email address they entered/if there are any typos: https://pedrozzifoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016-Instructions-for-Reference-Status.pdf

    Hope this helps!

    Danielle

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