Writing Recommendation Letters

Faculty are often asked to write recommendation letters for students. Recommendation letters are an extremely important part of a student's application, particularly for a prestigious award with a high level of competition.

The student should provide a letter writer with a substantial amount of information including a resume, drafts of personal statements or other written pieces of an application, and procedures for submitting a letter. The student should also ask the letter writer to compose a recommendation well in advance of the due date, ideally five to six weeks before the deadline.

General Guidelines for Strong Fellowship Letters

  • Letters should be 1-2 pages single-spaced in length. Some scholarships appreciate shorter letters, whereas others prefer longer letters that give more details about the student as an individual.
  • Address the student's academic performance or extracurricular engagements in detail and with examples. This gives a stronger impression and demonstrates personal knowledge of the student beyond their grade. Some fellowships require recommendation letters to address specific aspects of the student (i.e. academics, leadership skills, employment, etc.); the student should provide you with this information if applicable.
  • Provide the context in which you know the applicant and for what length of time.
  • Situate the applicant's performance in the larger context of your experience.
  • Discuss why the student would be a strong candidate for the specific scholarship.
  • Be candid but not negative. Foundations are looking for realistic evaluations of students.

Weak Fellowship Letters

  • Too short, too vague, no specific examples.
  • Generic letters or letters that have been reused from other purposes (graduate school admission, for example).
  • Letters that merely summarize information from application.
  • Letters that focus on courses taken or descriptions of activities/organizations rather than the work that the applicant did within those contexts.
  • Letters that evaluate the student as mediocre or average or too many negative evaluations.

Do not agree to write a letter if:

  • You are not strongly positive in support of the applicant.
  • You do not feel that you know the applicant well enough or you do not remember enough to provide a good letter.
  • You do not feel that you are the right person to recommend him/her for the fellowship.

Should you choose to write a letter of recommendation for a student, here are more valuable resources for you to peruse:

If you have questions regarding writing recommendation letters for students, please don't hesitate to contact your student or the University Fellowship Office for clarification.