University of Vermont

The Honors College

Fulbright Study/Research Grants: Tips for Letter of Recommendation Writers

The Fulbright US Student Program funds one-year post-graduate awards for study and research in more than 150 countries. Success in the Fulbright competition depends not only on the quality of the student's application, but also on the strength of letters of recommendation. The following are some suggestions for writing effective recommendations for students applying for research-based Fulbright Grants:

Address the applicant's "Fulbrightness." Fulbright applicants are evaluated on: (1) the merits and feasibility of the proposed project, (2) knowledge of the host country, (3) academic and other qualifications, especially in regard to the proposed project, (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. Since the student you are writing for is applying for a research-type grant, your letter should address the merits of the proposed project and as many of the other criteria as you feel you can speak to. 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 letter must bring the student to life with specific examples of achievement and ability as they relate to the aims of the Fulbright program and the evaluation criteria.

Write about the applicant. Fulbright selection committees don't care about an institution's US News ranking or other bragging points. Nor are they interested in the recommender's credentials and accomplishments, except as they may provide important background and context for the letter. In short, put the spotlight on the applicant. Also, avoid "hearsay." Don't base your letter on second-hand observations ("Professor Jones informs me that Jane's work was the best in his class"). Write about what you have witnessed.

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. However, they are most likely not experts in the subject the student is studying. Think of them as a highly-educated lay audience. 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, keep in mind that letters that are too short or too long may hurt the applicant. Generally speaking, a one to two page single-spaced letter suffices for this competition. Letters should be signed, on letterhead, and uploaded as PDFs.

Finally, some administrative details:

1. All letters need to be submitted onlineWhen the applicant registers you in the Embark Online Application system as a recommender, you will receive a message from Embark with directions for uploading your letter. IMPORTANT: If after submitting your letter 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. Letters can be addressed to: Fulbright Scholarship Selection Committee.

3. 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 02:51 PM