University of Vermont

The Honors College

Tips for Udall Scholarship Letters of Recommendation

The Udall Scholarship exists to support the next generation of leaders in fields related to the environment and conservation. Up to 75 Udall Scholarships are awarded nationally each year to sophomores and juniors who are planning to pursue a career as a leader in these fields including (but not limited to) policy, science, activism, eco-design, urban design, engineering, health and education. If awarded a Udall Scholarship, a student will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship, the opportunity to travel to Arizona for the annual Udall Scholars Orientation, and access to the Udall Scholars alumni listserv, which includes many current environmental professionals. It is a prestigious award; it opens doors to incredible academic opportunities, other fellowships, scholarships, graduate school acceptance and job opportunities. The University of Vermont can nominate up to six students each year for a Udall Scholarship.

The national Udall committee refers to four principle categories to evaluate each applicant:

1. The student's commitment to improving or preserving the environment.
2. The student's personal characteristics - the criteria include demonstrated leadership, community service, well roundedness, and references;
3. The student's academic achievements;
4. The student's application essay discussing a speech given by Mo Udall.

Your letter will play a central role in helping the committee evaluate the student's personal characteristics, and you have the opportunity to help convince them that the student is a person who has taken the initiative to be a leader and is someone who is genuinely committed to working toward making the world a safer, less wasteful and more environmentally friendly place. So when you sit down to write your letter, we have a few tips for you to keep in mind:

Make the Case for Excellence: The student will have ample space in his/her application to discuss his/her leadership experience, his/her commitment to improving or preserving the environment, and his/her academic achievements. Your letter can add depth to these experiences, so focus on how you've seen the student stand out among his/her peers, be it as a scholar, leader, or as someone committed to the environment. Also feel free to offer a personal perspective on the student's activities and character. 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).

Confirm and Validate the Student's Leadership Experiences and Career Goals: Be sure to comment on the student's sincere commitment as well as ability to continue going forward in a career related to the environment or conservation. Be sure to address the student's potential to make a significant and compelling impact as a leader in their field (think: broader impacts).

Speak to Your Audience: There are three things you need to know about the people who will be reading Udall applications at the national level: 1) The backgrounds of committee members vary widely: A former Udall reader noted that committee members ranged " . . . from professors of environmental policy and science, EPA officials, directors of scholarships and Honors programs, to representatives of Native American interests." 2) Readers have an overwhelming number of Udall applications they need to read; on average readers have about 10-15 minutes to spend on each application. 3) Readers will be quickly seeking to understand the significance of a student's leadership experience as well as their career goals.

So for Udall recommendation letters it's important to 1) get to the point, and 2) be brief. Letters that are around one page single spaced are appropriate for this competition.

Finally, some administrative details:
1. All letters need to be printed on letterhead, signed and submitted as a hardcopy, or, letters may be e-mailed to as a PDF. Students are responsible for collecting letters and making sure they get to the Fellowships Office. If students are collecting their letters from you in person please give it to them in a signed and sealed envelope. If the student is abroad you can send your letters through campus mail to me. Please drop me a note if you're sending your letter this way so I know to keep an eye out for it.
2. Letters can be addressed to: Udall Scholarship Selection Committee.
3. The deadline for students to submit their Udall applications is January 30, 2015, but students may need their references before then to complete their applications. Touch base with the student if you're uncertain about any deadlines.

Last modified January 06 2015 09:13 AM