Write a Meaningful Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are the most important component to an application, next to the essays written by the candidates. Referees are advised to provide as much relevant detail as possible. Specific examples and concrete comparisons with other students make a stronger case for our best candidates.

What does a scholarship recipient look like?

In general, scholarship committees give preference to candidates who combine high academic ability, personal integrity, an ongoing commitment to community service and the potential to make a significant contribution to their discipline and professional career. Candidates also must demonstrate the potential and desire to play an active role in their communities. See our How to Win Scholarships: Five Steps to Secure Funding page to learn more about what our winners look like.

Preparing to Write the Letter

  • Familiarize yourself with the scholarship. Letters of recommendation should be customized to each student and each scholarship. It is essential to know exactly what is important to the scholarship committee to write an impactful letter.
  • Review the candidate's other materials. Review the candidate's resume, personal statement, application and any other materials that will be submitted. The letter should complement what the student has written.
  • Consider how well you know the candidate to decide what you are most qualified to address. Since letters of recommendation are so crucial to an application package, you should ask yourself if you know the candidate well enough to write a genuine and meaningful recommendation. Consider how you know the candidate (are you a mentor, a friend, an employer, etc.) and how long you have known the candidate. If you feel that you are unable to write a substantial letter, don't write a letter at all. A letter that appears impersonal or uninformed could hurt the candidate's chances at success.

What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

Powerful letters of recommendation provide ample detail and evidence of:

  • Familiarity with the candidate.
  • The candidate's past accomplishments.
  • The candidate's leadership potential (especially the potential for distinction in their field and chosen profession).
  • The candidate's plans and preparation for research or study and how such plans fit into their long range career goals.
  • Why you believe that the candidate merits strong consideration by the selection committee.

Try not to rely solely on a summary of the candidate’s performance in a class or a cursory review of their transcripts and/or resume. Rather, seek a balanced, detailed, honest yet favorable portrait of the candidate from your perspective that addresses the criteria desired by the particular fellowship. Feel free to ask the candidate if there is anything that they would like you to mention in your letter.

Letters of recommendation should be frank and devoid of hyperbole. Avoid pro forma letters at all costs.

Additional Resources