Writing Reference Letters

Thank you for assisting a bright, aspiring scholar! Following are some tips as you prepare your letter of recommendation.

Candidate Preference

In general, scholarship or fellowship 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 the life of their host community.

Suggestions When Writing

Letters of recommendation are the most important items outside of the applicant essays written by the candidates. These are extremely competitive awards; candidates are competing on a national basis for a very limited number of scholarships.

For this reason, 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.

  • Your familiarity with the candidate
  • The candidate's past accomplishments
  • The candidate's leadership potential (especially for distinction in his or her field and chosen profession)
  • The candidate's plans and preparation for research or study with the scholarship, and how such plans fit into his or her 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 his or her transcripts and résumé. Rather, seek a balanced, detailed, and honest yet favorable portrait of the candidate from your perspective that addresses the criteria desired by the particular scholarship. Feel free to ask the candidate if there is anything that he or she would like you to mention in your letter.

Recommendation letters should be frank and devoid of hyperbole. Avoid pro forma letters at all costs. Letters generally exceed one page in length.

For further help, review sample letters and scholarship-specific information.

What the Candidate Should Provide

Ideally, the candidate should provide you with a copy of his or her transcripts, résumé, and program proposal. He or she should also provide you with information about the scholarship. On the following links you'll find some helpful information on what specifically each scholarship is looking for in your letter a recommendation: BeineckeBoren UndergraduateChurchillFulbright Research GrantFulbright ETAGates CambridgeGoldwaterKnight-HennessyLuce, MarshallMitchell, RhodesSamvid, SchwarzmanTruman, and Udall.

Fulbright Grants

If your student is applying for a Fulbright grant, please see information tailored specifically to letter of recommendation writers for the Student Fulbright Research Grant or the reference form that needs to be filled out for those students who are applying for the English Teaching Assistantship Fulbright.

Draft Letters

You may be required to submit a draft letter of recommendation to topscholars@illinois.edu or our office for the purposes of the campus interviewing and endorsement committee. However, an official letter eventually will be required. In any case, the campus review committee may ask you to clarify or to correct typological errors prior to submitting your official letter.