University of Vermont

The Honors College

Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships: Tips for Letter of Recommendation Writers

The Fulbright US Student Program funds one-year post-graduate awards that place students in a classroom as an English Teaching Assistant (ETA). ETA awards are available in over 70 countries; students who have demonstrated community engagement and a desire to take part in a cultural exchange using education as a medium are strong fits for Fulbright's teaching program. Fulbright ETAs are not responsible for designing curricula or teaching full courses. Rather they serve, under supervision, at their assigned placements and will be expected to develop and carry out a variety of learning activities, make presentations on U.S. culture and society, and/or assist faculty in an English Language Department with their teaching responsibilities, as needed.

Success in the Fulbright competition depends not only on the quality of the student's application, but also on the strength of the recommendations. For the ETA competition, the Fulbright Program requires the submission of a reference form and not a general letter of reference. The Fulbright Program will NOT accept reference letters for ETA applicants. Once a student registers you as their reference, you will receive an e-mail with a secure link to the reference form. The following are some suggestions for writing effective recommendations for students applying for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship:

Address the applicant's "Fulbrightness." Fulbright teaching assistants are evaluated on: (1) the merits and their reasons for wanting to use education as a medium for cultural exchange in their country of application, (2) knowledge of the host country, (3) academic and other qualifications, including leadership and community engagement activities that may be transferrable to the host country, (4) language qualifications, if applicable, (5) evidence of maturity, motivation and ability to adapt to a different culture, (6) impression the applicant will make as a citizen-ambassador of the US. Keep in mind that the Fulbright program is not only an educational exchange program; it is a cultural exchange program.

Tell "stories." Vague statements ("John is bright, conscientious and hard-working") are of little value in this competition. The form must bring the student to life with specific examples of achievement and ability as they relate to the aims of the Fulbright teaching assistantship. Such anecdotes may be related to a student's classroom experience, leadership experience, community engagement, or ability to serve as a cultural ambassador.

Highlight communication skills. Facility with and knowledge of English usage, grammar, spelling, and writing is important in the teaching assistantship position. You may be able to comment on the applicant's abilities in those areas from tests or papers they have prepared for your course or from formal presentations, classroom discussion or individual interviews with the applicant.

Speak to Your Audience: You can assume that the people who will read your letter for the Fulbright competition are academics and diplomatic officials who have an expertise in the region the student is applying to. Readers will be looking to you to add depth and perspective to the student regarding their "Fulbrightness," their intellectual ability and potential as a cultural ambassador, so be sure to address those topics.

Finally, some administrative details:

1. All reference forms are submitted online: When the applicant registers you in the Embark Online Application system as a recommender, you will receive a message from Embark with directions for accessing your form. IMPORTANT: If after submitting your form online you discover errors or wish to make revisions, you must ask that the letter be "unsubmitted" and returned to you by sending a request to or by calling 415-615-1805. The system does not allow the Office of Fellowships Advising to do this for you, however, if you need assistance please feel free to reach out to the fellowships office.

2. The deadline for students to submit their Fulbright applications is September 15, 2014 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