University of Vermont

The Honors College

The Boren Scholarship: Tips for Letter of Recommendation Writers

The Boren Scholarship is funded by the National Security Education Program (NSEP) through the U.S. State Department. It is a nationally competitive scholarship, and also the most lucrative study abroad scholarship available to undergraduates (students can receive up to $20,000 in financial support for their time abroad). The Boren seeks to award high achieving students who:

1. Plan to study abroad off the beaten path: Any student who is planning to study abroad outside of Western Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand is eligible for a Boren Scholarship. The Boren also especially seeks to reward students who plan to study abroad for at least six months or longer (as this doesn't quite correlate with the semester calendar, students tend to pursue programs that enable them to be abroad for a summer and fall, a spring and summer, or an entire academic year).

2. Have a commitment to improving their foreign language skills, and have picked a study abroad program which will enable them to receive consistent language instruction: In order to be eligible for a Boren Scholarship, the student has picked a program that will offer him/her significant language instruction during his/her time abroad. For Boren, there is no minimum language qualification necessary to be a strong applicant; students do not need to have reached a certain level of proficiency, nor do they necessarily need any previous language instruction in order to be a competitive applicant in this competition (though it doesn't hurt). While the Boren supports study for several dozen languages, the languages that tend to receive the most scholarships are Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Japanese.

3. Have a plan to fulfill the Boren's public service requirement: In exchange for the financial support, students who are named Boren Scholars commit to working for the federal government for at least a year in a position related to national security. "National Security" is very broadly defined by the NSEP; while it can certainly include positions in the State and Defense Departments, it could also include positions with the EPA, the NIH, the CDC, USAID, and literally dozens of other positions within the U.S. government.

The national Boren committee closely examines three aspects of each applicant: 1) The applicant's academic background and how it is preparing them to pursue their professional goals, 2) The applicant's study abroad program and plan, and how those will enable the student to have a significant language and cultural experience, and 3) The applicant's overall academic and career goals, and how their study abroad experience will enable them to launch into their preferred position in the public sector before they go on to pursue other career goals.

With that in mind, we have a couple tips for how you can approach a Boren recommendation letter:

Connect the student's academic experience to their study abroad experience: As a professor, mentor or advisor you're in an excellent position to see how their course of study is preparing them for the opportunity to study abroad. You can draw on your experience with your student or advisee to comment on how the subjects he/she studied prepares her/him to complete the proposed study abroad program successfully. Feel free to also offer an opinion on how you think the experience of studying abroad and then further undergraduate language study once the student returns to UVM will enable him/her to achieve his/her career goals.

Make the case for excellence: Here, it's ok to use anecdotes to bring the student to life in your letter; talk about your experience with them as a student and a scholar. If you've had the applicant in your classroom, then it helps to favorably compare them with their classmates as well as with other outstanding students you've taught throughout the years. That said, avoid being vague, and avoid statements such as, "X Student turned in assignments on time" or "X Student had perfect attendance in my class" (True, these are important qualities, but when articulating excellence these should go without saying).

Speak to your audience: Your audience will come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds; they could be language professors, area studies or international studies professors, or they could be study abroad program advisors. They will have an expertise in the region the student wants to study in, but they may not have an expertise in the specific country the student wants to go to. Also, be thorough but also be brief; a letter that's one to one-and-a-half pages single spaced will suffice for this competition.

Finally, some administrative details:

1. All letters need to be printed on letterhead, signed and submitted as a hard copy by the campus deadline. Students are responsible for collecting letters and submitting them to the Office of Fellowships Advising by January 17, 2014.

2. Letters can be addressed to: Boren Scholarship Selection Committee.

3. The deadline for students to submit their Boren applications is January 16, 2015 but students may need their references before then to complete their applications. Touch base with the student if you're confused about any deadlines.

Last modified July 16 2014 02:52 PM