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A Reference Letter That Wins Scholarships 

 May 28, 2020

By  Mobolaji Folorunso

Reference letters are VERY crucial components of different kinds of applications, from job applications, to applications for admissions and scholarship.

There’s a reason why.

And if you grasp why reference letters are very important, you’ll understand what it takes to secure a really strong reference letter for your Master’s admissions application and/or scholarship application.

And that is what this article will address.

How to secure a really strong reference letter.

You can also apply the lessons from this article to applications for scholarships/admission in other countries, apart from Sweden.

I’m sure by now, you understand that reference letters are usually required for Master’s admission applications in Sweden and the Swedish Institute Study Scholarship.

While not every university in Sweden asks for reference letters for applications to their Master’s programmes, a reference letter is one of the compulsory required documents for the Swedish Institute Scholarship.

Sometimes, a reference letter is called a recommendation letter, but it’s still the same thing.

So, what makes a strong reference letter?

1. The position/title of the referee
You know, sometimes you want to buy a product, but you’re not sure if the product is worth the price, if it’s of good quality or even if it’ll work.

But, when you see a TV advert of a popular celebrity like Wizkid, or Davido or Cristiano Ronaldo endorsing the product, what happens to your trust in the product?

Yeah, it goes up.

Now, you’re confident that the product is worth its price and it must be a quality product for these celebrities to put their reputation on the line for this product.

This is just how the world of reference letters work.

They want to give you a scholarship, but they don’t know you.

They want to select you for their Master’s programme, but they don’t know you.

You can say a lot of good and impressive things about your achievements, and yet, there’s still this idea in the minds of the selection committee members…”Could he/she be lying?”

What drives out this idea in their minds?

…Reference letters

And not just any kind of reference letters.

Reference letters from someone who you worked with or taught you a course, or just knows about your academic/professional experience, and has a lot to lose if they recommend you.

Take note of the words in bold letters. Someone who has a lot to lose.

What do I mean by having a lot to lose?

The CEO of a company has a lot more to lose in reputation than just a supervisor in the same company.

The head of your department in university has a lot more to lose than just any lecturer.

So, if you’re looking for a strong reference letter, create a list of people who could serve as your referees and select the most highly-placed people among them to recommend you.

2. The content of the reference letter
After you’ve selected the people who could serve as your referees, the next thing to pay attention to is the content of the reference letters.

Your referees cannot just write anything about you in the reference letters. They can’t just write “She was very sound, very brilliant….”

They need to be specific in whatever they want to write about you. They need to mention details, numbers, results, grades, etc.

I want you to judge this.

Which is better between the following two statements?

“Halima was a bright employee during the time she worked with us”

OR

“Halima was one of our most effective employees as she was responsible for the improvement of our customer satisfaction rates from 80% to 95% in 2016”

I’m sure you know which is better.

Additionally, your referees should talk about your abilities/achievements in regards to the objective of the application the reference letter is meant for.

If it is the Swedish Institute Scholarship, the Swedish Institute says,

“Ideal candidates are ambitious young professionals with academic qualifications, demonstrated work and leadership experience, ambition to make a difference by working with issues which contribute to a just and sustainable development in their country in a long term perspective, and a clear idea of how a study programme in Sweden would benefit their country.”

So, your referees should talk about your abilities/potentials/achievements in regards to your leadership skills and your passion for societal development.

If they remember short stories of their experience with you, they can include these to make the reference letter more credible.

In all this, you see how important it is to brief your referees about what they should write about.

They need to know what application the reference letter is for and the objectives of the application.

3. The e-mail address of the referee
The referee’s email address? How?

Now, look at these two email addresses and tell me which is more credible:

Mobolaji Folorunso
Senior Manager,
Compta Ltd.
[email protected]

OR

Mobolaji Folorunso
Senior Manager,
Compta Ltd.
[email protected]

Obviously, it’s the one with the official company email address, and not just an ordinary gmail or yahoo email address.

Adding a company-issued email address to the referee’s contact details in the reference letter adds some credibility to the referee’s profile.

Of course, some of your referees may not have official company email addresses, in this case, they can use their normal email addresses.

But if they have official company-issued email address, advise them to write it in their contact information in the reference letter.

I hope this has been helpful

Mobolaji Folorunso


Mobolaji was a recipient of the Swedish Institute Study Scholarship, now known as the Swedish Institute Scholarship for Global Professionals. He studied for a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Lagos, Nigeria, and a Master's degree in Industrial Engineering and Management at Linköping University, Sweden. After winning the scholarship in 2017, Mobolaji has been coaching prospective applicants for the scholarship on how to present strong applications for the scholarship. He founded Scholars.Africa to help prospective African graduate studies applicants on how to successfully access funding for graduate studies in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.

Mobolaji Folorunso

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