Write a Letter
Letters of Recommendation are a critical piece of any national fellowship application. Staff at ONSF are always happy to review letters of recommendation at any stage of development and at any point in the process and to provide guidance on how to craft a letter that accurately reflects the specific criteria for each competition.
The prestigious scholarship opportunities supported by ONSF are highly competitive. Effective letters are personal, detailed, and chock full of examples that illustrate the way(s) in which the applicant meets – and exceeds – the award criteria.
We encourage all faculty who have agreed to write a letter of recommendation for a student applying for a nationally-competitive award to begin by seeking out the type of scholarship-specific advice found here on what various national fellowships are looking for in their letters. This resource provides information on the Fulbright, Gates Cambridge, Goldwater, Marshall, Mitchell, NSF-GRFP, Rhodes, Truman, and Udall.
There are also a number of helpful general resources on writing recommendation letters for students available online.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute provides some detailed guidance for writing letters in scientific fields, aimed primarily at new faculty and others who haven’t written a lot of letters of recommendation in the past.
Finally, ONSF has partnered with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) to offer a recurring workshop on Writing Letters of Recommendation. While the workshop focused on many of the “nuts and bolts” of writing letters of recommendation, it also emphasized the importance of taking concrete steps to avoid the inadvertent introduction of biased language into the letters we write.
- Click here to view the slides from the most recent joint CETL-ODI-ONSF workshop on Writing Letters of Recommendation (Sept. 21, 2022)
- Click here to access the articles cited in the workshop slideshow, and additional resources on the topic of implicit bias
- Click here to access a recording of the most recent workshop
- See below for additional resources on avoiding bias when writing (and reading) letters of recommendation:
- Avoiding Gender Bias in Letter Writing (Commission on the Status of Women, University of Arizona)
- Avoiding Racial Bias in Letter Writing (Asmeret Asefaw Berhe and Sora Kim, Univ. of California, Merced)
- Avoiding Racial and Gender Bias When Writing Recommendation Letters (Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning, St. Louis University; n.d.)
- Writing Reference Letters for People with Disabilities (Michelle Cooke; Inside Higher Ed, 8 February 2022)
- Examples of Bias and What to Watch Out For (Rochester Institute of Technology’s AdvanceRIT Program)
- Letters of Recommendation Reaffirm Entrenched Systems of Bias and Exclusion (Sarah Iwen’s brief 2019 discussion of the history, and legacy, of using letters of recommendation in admissions; Inside Higher Ed, 10 April 2019)
- 10 Simple Rules for Writing Compelling Recommendation Letters (Jennifer H. Kong, Latishya J. Steele, and Crystal M. Botham, Stanford University; PLOS Computational Biology, 25 Feb. 2021)
Refer a Student
ONSF relies heavily on referrals from faculty and staff to identify students who might be a good fit for a nationally competitive scholarship or fellowship. We welcome referrals at any time. There is no need to have a specific fellowship in mind.
Email ONSF Director Vin Moscardelli with a brief message about the student you are referring, and feel free to copy the student. We find it works best to draw students into the exchange from the beginning.