Student Guidelines

Fellowships generally require two to eight recommendation letters. Selection committees depend heavily on these letters for insight into applicants' personal strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments, information that cannot be readily gleaned from transcripts and test scores. As such, it is in your best interest to help your recommenders write accurate and detailed letters. Choose your recommenders carefully. They should be people who have observed your academic ability and personal qualities.

Guidelines for Managing Letter Requests

  • Read the application instructions carefully for selection criteria and the number of recommendations needed.
  • You need not feel shy about requesting a recommendation. This process is familiar to all faculty members.
  • Choose the people who know you best. Students wonder whether they should ask a "big name" professor who knows only their face and final grade or a less-known professor who knows them better. Letters by well-known scholars only carry more weight if the person knows you well enough to write a substantial, convincing letter. The more detailed and personalized a letter is, the more likely it is to make a strong impression. So, ask instructors with the most extensive, personal knowledge of you and your work.
  • Contact your professors early. It is common courtesy to allow recommenders four weeks to prepare and submit letters. Remember that professors are busy and they write letters out of interest in you and in your future. Given the Dartmouth calendar, they may be on leave when you need your recommendations.
  • Plan a reasonable deadline. Aim to have your recommendation letters prior to the fellowship deadline. It is reasonable to send a polite reminder as the deadline approaches.
  • Make an appointment with each recommender. Begin your request with a substantial conversation about your interests and goals. Be prepared to also discuss your course work and other interests. Then ask if they can write a strong recommendation letter. Most likely they will say yes. In some cases, a faculty member may either say no or that he or she can only cite certain qualifiers or weaknesses. Accept his/her judgment graciously and consider asking for more feedback about your goals and plan for study.
  • Provide detailed, relevant information. Provide recommenders with as much relevant information as possible for a detailed and strong letter. Depending on the fellowship, you should supply your recommenders with the following:
    • information about the nature and purpose of the fellowship
    • a draft of your personal statement or statement of purpose
    • a summary of your career and educational goals
    • a copy of a term paper you wrote for their class
    • a current resume
    • a list of your activities (sports, organizations, leadership, volunteer positions, etc.)
    • a description of pertinent work or research experience
    • the recommendation form or information on receiving a recommendation link
    • submission instructions and deadline
    • if your recommendations must be submitted as hard copies, provide properly addressed, typed, and stamped envelopes to be mailed to the foundation or offer to pick up and deliver letters in sealed envelopes addressed to Fellowship Advising.
  • Keep in touch with your recommenders. After submitting your application, you may want to send recommenders a thank you note expressing your appreciation. Update them on your progress throughout the stages of the competition and inform them whether you are selected for the award or not. Should you need a recommendation in the future, this kind of follow-up will continue to foster a positive relationship with your faculty sponsors.