Asking for Recommendations

Your letters of recommendation should come from people who know you well enough to support the claims you make in your application. Being recommended by a Nobel Prize winner who does not know you will not strengthen your application. If one of the most important activities you list on your Truman application is your work to improve disabilities services at Brown, a letter from Brown's Director of Student and Employee Accessibility Services is important. Think of your application as a unified whole in which all parts work together; your letters should support and amplify other parts of the application.

As soon as you begin to think seriously about applying for a fellowship, make appointments with your potential referees to discuss your interest in the award. Seek their advice and ask if they would support your endeavor. 

To make the process easier for your referees and to ensure that you get the strongest letters possible, give your referees enough advance notice and provide them with the materials they need. Recommendation materials should go to your referees at least two weeks before the deadline. Provide the following materials to your referees:

  • The recommendation form itself. In most cases, referees may write the letter on their own letterhead, but they might also need to include the form. If someone is writing multiple letters for you, make sure you emphasize that each fellowship needs to have its own letter specific to the application and addressed to that foundation or appropriate committee at Brown.
  • The following information on a separate sheet:
    1. The deadline
    2. To whom the letter(s) should be addressed (individual or committee, relevant titles, address)
    3. Information about how and where the letter needs to be sent. If the letter needs to be submitted on-line, provide referees with all the relevant information about how to do so. Explain that you have registered them as referees with the foundation and that they will receive a prompt with login and password information directly from the foundation. 
  • A description of the fellowship and your specific project or program. Ideally, your letters will speak to your suitability for the fellowship. Referees need to understand the nature of the award to write strong letters of support.
  • A copy of the essay(s) you have written for the fellowship(s). If your referees can read the essays and perhaps even discuss them with you, their letters will be more forceful and germane. You might also take this opportunity to ask for their feedback on your essays. 
  • A copy of the resume and/or activities list you plan to submit as part of your application. Tell your referees that you welcome their feedback on these documents if they have time to provide it.
  • Reminders of any significant work you did with your referees. Faculty work with many students, so they are not always able to call to mind the kind of details that inform a strong letter of support. Write a summary paragraph describing the work you did with them or under their direction. You can also include copies of papers you wrote for their classes, especially if writing is one of your strengths.