University of California, Riverside

Student Engagement

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For Faculty Letter Writers:

Letters of Recommendation for competitive national and international awards are a critical component of the application packet.  Your letter may be the deciding factor in a stellar applicant being selected.

    • Most fellowships require 3 letters. Rhodes requires 5-8 letters. Marshall requires 4.
    • Applicants will be advised to provide you with an information packet to assist you in writing the letter.  This includes:
      • Mission of the award opportunity and why the student feels it is a good fit.
      • Draft personal statement
      • Other scholarship required essay (research proposal, proposal of study, statement of grant purpose, etc.)
      • Transcript
      • Resume
      • Recommended highlights you may consider including in the letter.  It is important that each letter highlights a special aspect of the student that demonstrates their leadership and potential to succeed as a recipient of the award.  Students may have some recommendations of examples where they have excelled.
      • Deadline for when the letter needs to mailed or uploaded.  Any special instructions, particularly for awards that require a campus endorsement.
    • Deadlines
      - Prestigious awards highly enforce their deadlines.  Please be mindful to allow time for mailing or uploading to online systems.  For awards that require campus endorsement you will be asked to send a copy of the letter to Undergraduate Education,  A list of awards and deadlines is available at 
    • Length
      – Letters of Recommendation for competitive awards should be 1 ½ -2 pages with concrete examples that support the student’s candidacy for the award.  Many awards are moving to online application systems that will either ask you to upload your letter, put the content in a text box, or answer specific questions about the candidate.  Please be aware of word limits.
      • Marshall - 1,000 word limit
      • Fulbright - Asks 5 specific questions and sets word limits between 70-120 each.
    • The letter of recommendation should help support the student’s story of where the student has come from, what he/she has accomplished, and his/her potential to contribute to the discipline.
    • Address the scholarship criteria specifically in ways that demonstrate your abundant confidence in the student and your knowledge of the candidate beyond grades and classroom performance.
    • Tips for writing letters of recommendation for specific prestigious awards:
  • A critical component of the UK awards is that the applicant be able to make a strong case for why the program they wish to pursue is the absolute best way for them to receive the training and experience they desire; any information you can add to support that case can be helpful (this curriculum would be difficult or impossible to achieve in the U.S. for example, or the UK program would allow them access to unique resources such as interdisciplinary or inter-institution collaborative projects).
  • Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Churchill, Gates Cambridge, Fulbright: Seek students who are academically strong, have a maturity of character for successful study abroad, and who demonstrate leadership and ambassadorial potential. Listed below are elements that the letters of recommendation should highlight:
  • Rhodes Scholarship: seek students with proven intellectual and academic quality, leadership, integrity, demonstrate interest in and respect for others.  The letter should support the student’s potential to be an important contributor to their discipline, and the ways in which their service and leadership are not just strong, but extraordinary.
  • Winston Churchill Scholarship: seek students with potential to be an important contributor to their discipline is the most critical component; leadership and service are complimentary.  The letter should focus on student’s contribution to research, awards, and recognitions as evidence of potential to make significant contribution to the chosen profession.  The letter should also address the fit between the abilities and aspirations of the applicant and what Oxford University can offer in its graduate program.  The selection committee consists of former Churchill Scholars, there is always a a mathematician, a physicist, a chemist, an engineer, and two different kinds of biologist. 
  • Marshall Scholarship:  seek candidates who have the potential to excel as scholars, as leaders, and as contributors to improved UK-US understanding.  Assessment will be based on academic merit, leadership potential, and ambassadorial potential.  It is important to show evidence of potential to make significant contribution to the chosen profession.
  • Gates Cambridge:  seek students with academic achievement and suitability to undertake the proposed program of study.  Student leadership, research experience, social commitment, and academic strength are characteristics sought by this award.  It is important to show evidence of potential to make significant contribution to the chosen profession and the lives of others.  The letter should also address the fit between the abilities and aspirations of the applicant and what the University of Cambridge can offer in its graduate program.
  • Mitchell Scholarship:  Seek students who demonstrate potential to be outstanding cultural ambassadors to Ireland, and it should also be clear that the applicant has the potential to perform well in the chosen Irish program of study.  It is important to show evidence of demonstrated record of intellectual distinction, leadership, and extra-curricular activity, indicating a strong potential for future leadership and contribution to society.
  • Harry S. Truman Scholarship:   seek students with leadership abilities and potential, commitment to a career in public service, intellect, and prospects for continuing academic success.  The letter should highlight impactful  contributions that demonstrate leadership and commitment to service.
    • General Tips for writing letters of recommendation:
      Be specific about your relationship to the student, and the length of time you have known the student, offer a candid and detailed assessment of his/her abilities and goals, and your assessment for his/her future potential.
      • Provide context for how student ranks in class or among the top students for example “X is in the top N students I've taught over the past N years”
        • Tout the course or the department if that added context further enhances the student's accomplishments.
      • Provide examples of major accomplishments the student has made, this can be focused on academics, research, leadership, or awards. Consult with the student on which area your letter should focus on so that the letters are not repetitive. Describe the candidate's personality, characteristics, and work ethic, using concrete examples that demonstrate a strong relationship. These examples demonstrate how well you know the candidate and further support your endorsement.
      • Describe and evaluate in detail the student's scholarly work, especially a major research project. The letter should help the selection committee understand the significance of this research, the contribution it has made, the student’s direct role, and include examples of the student's ability to make future contributions as a scientist, policy maker, environmentalist, etc.
      • Provide support for accomplishments student has mentioned in their application, but most importantly provide supporting information that has not been mentioned in the application. What makes the student unique?  This is where you can really personalize the letter and demonstrate the depth of your knowledge of the student's accomplishments, goals, challenges that have been overcome.
      • Remarks from other colleagues where appropriate.  Faculty who engage with the student and are impressed, TAs or lab assistant's assessments.
      • If a student has overcome a hardship/challenge or excelled in an area not mentioned in the application this is a good place to add the information.
      • If you
    • Format
      • Please print letter on letter head and sign.
      • Address the letter to the scholarship (Rhodes, Marshall, etc.) Selection Committee
      • If the award uses an online format with fill in questions, please be sure to send a copy of the submission to

Writing Recommendation Letters – Penn State 

Respected for his publications on effective graduate school and prestigious award applications, Joe Schall presents an on-line faculty handbook on writing recommendation letters:



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