International Students - Useful Tips - Letters

Useful Tips

Letters of Recommendation


The following article adapted from Professor Joe Schall's recommendations supplies very useful advice apropos writing successful application letters, albeit specifically for the Fulbright Scholarships.


However theses tips will also prove useful for other applications.


Writing the Fulbright Scholarship Recommendation by Joe Schall:

The criteria you should address in a Fulbright Scholarship recommendation letter include:


  • a strong level of knowledge and potential for future growth in the chosen field;
  • the ability to carry out research and think and write analytically;
  • emotional stability, maturity, motivation, and seriousness of purpose;
  • appropriate linguistic preparation and ability to adapt to a different cultural environment;
  • a proposed project that is feasible and has merit;

The best Fulbright recommendation letters detail the student’s background in connection with the proposed project, and are written in a tone that is energetic and genuine. Among the recommendation letters from previous years, one successful letter complimented a student’s ability as a designated discussion leader to keep up with current events in the Middle East and to motivate the students in an 8:00 a.m. class. Another letter offered the relevant aside that the Federal Aviation Administration had shown interest in a student’s research, while another letter took a moment to comment on the kind of vision that a student’s specific study plan had in relation to the agriculture and economy of the host country. Finally, one letter ended with the simple and genuine declaration: “She should become a diplomat.” Such personal, considered, emphatic testimonies reflect familiarity with and abundant confidence in the student.
Weak Fulbright recommendation letters tend to be so generic that they could apply to almost any student’s background, and weak letters from previous years made no attempt to match a student’s abilities and character with the proposed study plan or type of programme. Some letter writers were careful to detail the student’s academic excellence, but made no comments beyond what could easily be gleaned from a review of the student’s transcript. It is vital that a letter of support offers some detail that fits only that individual being recommended, and that the recommender comments specifically on the student’s plan of study.
Finally, despite the application’s request that you comment in such areas as a student’s linguistic ability and the resources available abroad, you should not feel compelled to reach beyond your experience in any of your comments. For instance, you may know nothing about the student’s linguistic ability or the availability of resources in the host country. In this case, trust that the student’s application as a whole will serve the committee’s needs, and that a stumbling, unsure effort by you in an area outside your bailiwick might only do harm. If you appear to be reaching for detail, it will likely show.



The above advice is adapted from Joe Schall's Writing Recommendation Letters: A Faculty Handbook, with the author's permission.  The second edition of this handbook is available from Outernet Publishing at http/

Questions and detailed ordering information requests can be directed to Prof Joe Schall (

The “creative commons” license that applies to the book’s material may be found at

The most recent edition of the faculty handbook may be obtained at

Also, the sister handbook – designed for students applying for grad school and scholarships is available at


Some Examples of Letters of Recommendation:

Example 1

Example 2