Once nominated, 1,200 students nominated by universities all over the country compete for Goldwater Scholarships. When determining which applicants to award, Goldwater representatives are looking for three things: 1) Academic excellence, 2) Significant research experience, and 3) A commitment to pursuing a career in research. As you're writing your letter, we'd like to encourage you to keep the following points in mind:
Make the Case for Excellence: The Goldwater truly seeks to reward excellence; in past years Goldwater scholars have maintained an average GPA of 3.9 or above while pursuing significant undergraduate research opportunities. Be specific in terms of what has impressed you in your interactions with the student, and bring the student to life in your letter. There are a couple effective ways to do this; you can bring in specific examples or anecdotes from your experience with the student in the classroom, the lab or in meetings with them. To that end, 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 Academic and Career Goals: Be sure to comment on the student's sincere commitment as well as ability to continue going forward in a research career, and be sure to address the student's potential to make a significant and compelling impact in their field (think: broader impacts). It's helpful if you can genuinely favorably compare the student to other outstanding undergraduate (or graduate) students you've worked with.
Speak to Your Audience: You can assume that the people who will read your letter for the Goldwater competition are scientifically educated and generally knowledgeable in science, mathematics or engineering (however it's unlikely that all reviewers will be from a student's field of expertise). Readers will be looking to you to add depth and perspective to the student regarding their research skills, intellectual ability and potential for a career in science, engineering or mathematics, 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.
Finally, some administrative details:
- All letters need to be submitted online Students are responsible for registering you as their reference writer in their online application; once they do this you will receive instructions for how to submit your letter. Fellowships advisors do not have access to referee reginstration, so if you do not receive these instructions, contact the student to make sure they registered you correctly.
- Letters can be addressed to: Goldwater Scholarship Selection Committee.
- The deadline for students to submit their Goldwater applications is typically in the first week of December but students may need their references before then to complete their applications. Touch base with the student if you're confused about any deadlines.