Students who may want to apply for a national scholarship benefit substantially from collaboration with faculty mentors. Discussions of professional goals, research and project opportunities, and individual studies with faculty members are decisive experiences in an undergraduate education. Students who interact with faculty on an individual basis will likely be more prepared for interviews that require them to define their professional goals and to have prepared essays that explain their individual projects.
Suggestions for Writing Letters of Recommendations for National Fellowships
National Scholarships and Fellowships are usually highly competitive and require details that reflect an intimate knowledge of students’ work and abilities. Because of the nature of awards, guidelines are often provided by campuses to assist faculty in presenting the strongest letter possible. You may be asked to forward your letter to the Student Fellowship Committee before submitting it online. In many cases, the student will have an on-campus deadline for all application materials, including letters of recommendation, before the program gives the candidate its institutional support.
- Use department letterhead, date your letter, and sign it in blue ink.
- Give your title and contact information.
- Strong letters are usually one-to-two pages in length.
- Make reference to the Fellowship or Scholarship by name in the letter.
- Proofread your letter.
- Give specific information about the applicant and the context (courses, research projects, work) in which you know him or her.
- Explain how and why the student stands out from other students by giving concrete examples of their brilliant writing, insightful discussions, or exceptional contributions. Paint a vivid picture of the student, possibly quoting from their work or presentations, and give examples of incidents that show what makes the student exceptional and deserving. Focus mostly on recent accomplishments. You may want to ask the student to give you a copy of work they did for you in class.
- Describe why you believe the student to be a strong candidate for the award (a webpage for each fellowship is available online), the qualifications of the student, the proposed project, the particular degree area, the public service, and especially the clear vision they have for their future. If necessary, meet with the student more than once to gain a better understanding of these attributes.
- Make comparisons to other students you have taught, using percentages, number of years, or draw on the distinguishing comments from other faculty with a knowledge of the student’s work.
- Be honest, avoid exaggerations and generic remarks that do not contribute to the special attributes of the student. “Kind,” “well-liked,” “gets along well,” and “punctual,” for example, generally are not distinguishing characteristics.
- Avoid too much information about the course itself; instead, focus on the student's achievements.