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Letters of recommendation are one of the most important elements in almost any fellowship application. They give supporting evidence of your accomplishments and provide unique insights into your abilities and character. Strong letters of recommendation present a fuller and more well-rounded picture of you.

Who do I ask?

Select people who can speak deeply and directly about you and your experiences. Your recommenders should know you well. Avoid asking people based on status or prestige who are not especially familiar with you. Fellowships committees are interested in the people who know you best, not in the rank or title of the person recommending you.

Recommendations from faculty

Faculty are the main source of recommendations, especially for academically-focused awards. Look for professors who check a few of these boxes:

  • Have taught you in at least one recent class and can speak to the quality of your submitted work and participation in class discussion.
  • Know you outside the classroom through research, study abroad, teaching experience, or another setting in which you interacted one on one or in a small group.
  • Can attest to your academic and professional preparation the fellowship experience you are applying to.
  • Can speak to your character and "soft skills," such as resourcefulness and grit, an ability to overcome challenges and deal with uncertainty, cultural competency and ability to relate to others. 

Recommendations from others

Some fellowships welcome or even expect letters from people who know you in other contexts, such as work supervisors, volunteer coordinators, mentors or coaches. You might want someone who can talk about your leadership qualities, work ethic, social skills, community engagement, or teaching experience. Some examples:

  • Fulbright ETA: Applicants should select at least one recommender who does not know you only from a classroom setting. A work supervisor, teaching mentor, or student organization adviser are good choices. 
  • Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Truman, and Udall all welcome at least one recommendation that speaks to leadership, community service, or other non-academic experiences.

If you are not sure who to ask, please consult a fellowships advisor!

How do I ask?

Once you have identified the people you want to ask for recommendations, contact them to discuss your interest in the fellowship. Be sure to give them sufficient notice, usually 4-8 weeks in advance of the deadline. Make sure to provide the following information and materials:

  • Description of the fellowship you are applying to and your specific project or program. 
  • Explanation of why you would like them to write for you. Give them a reminder of how you know them. Write a summary of the work you did for them or under their direction. Don't be afraid to ask them to highlight certain accomplishments or personal qualities that you think would enhance your application.
  • A copy of the essay(s) you have written for the application. This allows your writers to tailor their letters to fit your larger application packet and provide evidence and context for the claims you make in your essays. You might also ask them to provide feedback on your application essays.
  • A copy of the resume that you plan to submit for the fellowship application. 
  • Make sure they know the deadline, to whom the letter should be submitted, and information on how and where the letter needs to be sent. If submission is online, make sure they have all the logistical information and relevant internet links and prompts. 

We highly recommend using our Recommendation Request FormThis will help you organize the information described above in one place to give to each of your letter writers. This form can also be used for applications to graduate programs, internships, study abroad programs, or jobs.

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