The Harry S. Truman Scholarship seeks to identify and support current juniors who have demonstrated significant leadership abilities and are dedicated to pursuing a career in public service.

Program Information

Students who have an...

  • Extensive record of public and community service
  • Commitment to a career in government or elsewhere in public service
  • Communication skills and a high probability of becoming a "change agent"
  • Strong academic record with likely acceptance by a first-rate graduate school

...should consider applying for a Truman Scholarship.

Up to 65 Truman Scholarships are awarded each year to college juniors with an outstanding potential for leadership in any sector of government. Each scholarship covers up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school ($15,000 for the first year of graduate or professional study and an additional $15,000 for the last year, provided that the Scholar enters public service upon completion of the program. The Truman Foundation's definition of public service includes work for government agencies, public and private schools, many non-profit organizations, and more). One scholar is chosen from every state and U.S. territory and approximately 30 are chosen at large.

Nomination and Materials

UVM is allowed to nominate up to four juniors to participate in the national Truman Scholarship competition. Any current, full time UVM junior who is a U.S. citizen is eligible to apply. The nomination process takes place during the fall; interested applicants submit the campus nomination materials and are interviewed by a nominating committee in December. Interviews last about 20 minutes, and applicants are questioned on their interest in public service, their policy proposal, and their career goals. Nominations are announced in December, and all nominated applicants will be registered with the Truman Foundation.

Campus nomination materials include:

  • A resume or CV (no longer than two pages)
  • A policy statement (see attached form)
  • Leadership statement (300 words): Describe one specific example of your leadership. (The writer of your letter of recommendation re: Leadership Abilities and Potential must confirm this experience.)
  • Public Service Statement (300 words): Articulate how you define public service and discuss what role you think a public servant plays in society.
  • Postgraduate Statement (300 words): Describe the issues you hope to address in your public service career. Discuss the graduate education you would like to pursue, including any specific schools or programs you'd like to apply for, that will enable you to address these issues. Discuss the career you hope that this graduate education will enable you to pursue, and talk about the path you see yourself taking to reach your career goals.
  • An official or unofficial copy of all undergraduate transcripts (including UVM and any study abroad institutions)
  • Three letters of recommendation: One letter of recommendation commenting on your academic accomplishments, one letter of recommendation commenting on your leadership experience (letter writer must be able to comment on the leadership experience you describe in your leadership statement), and one letter of recommendation commenting on your commitment to public service.

All nominated students are expected to stay in contact with the fellowships advisor and complete at least one draft of the Truman application form during winter break. Final application advising taking place during the first weeks of the spring semester.


To be eligible, you must be U.S. citizen, a U.S. National resident of American Samoa, or expect to obtain U.S. citizenship by the date of the award. You must also be in the top quarter of your class. Finally, you must have a demonstrated interest in a career in government or related public service at the federal, state, or local level.

Application Procedures

Intent to Apply: Complete by September 1, 2023. This form indicates your interest in applying, and connects you directly with FOUR's fellowships advisor for advising and preparation of application materials. 

Internal Application: Due December 1, 2023. 

  • Candidates with promising applications will be invited to interview with the nominating committee. We will interview students studying abroad by MS Teams. On the basis of the application and interview, up to four nominees may be selected. Nominees will be notified of their status in December.

Winter Advising: All nominees are expected to work closely with the fellowships advisor and Dean of the Honors College through the end of the fall semester and winter break. The Truman application takes a lot of thought and reflection; nominated students need to make the commitment to put in that time before accepting the university's nomination.

External application: The online external application, which we urge applicants to submit two days prior to the external deadline in February, includes the following:

  • A very demanding 5-page application form. This asks you for four separate lists of extracurricular activities: college and high school activities, public service and community activities, government activities, and part-time and full-time jobs and non-government internships. It also asks you for short answers to several questions: for example, "describe one specific example of your leadership" and "describe a recent particularly satisfying public service activity."
  • A 1-page (plus footnotes and references) policy proposal, addressed to the most relevant government leader. This will usually be a refined (and edited to a maximum of 500 words) version of the policy proposal you submitted in your internal application.
  • Three letters of recommendation, one which speaks to your leadership abilities and potential, one to your public service record, and one to your academic achievements.
  • An official transcript.

After The Application is Submitted

On the basis of this application, the Finalists Selection Committee selects finalists to interview. Finalists are announced on the Truman website at the end of February or beginning of March. Being selected as a finalist is a great honor. Finalists are interviewed in mid-March. The Office of Fellowships, Opportunities, and Undergraduate Research will arrange for one or more formal mock interviews to help finalists prepare. Winners are announced in mid-April.

Tips for Letter of Recommendation Writers

The Truman Scholarship exists to support the next generation of public servants and public policy experts. Up to 65 Truman Scholarships are awarded nationally each year to juniors who are planning to pursue a career as a leader in the public service sector including (but not limited to) the government, non-profit organizations, public policy think tanks, education, and public health agencies. If awarded a Truman Scholarship, a student will receive a $30,000 scholarship for graduate or professional school. In exchange for that scholarship, the student commits to working in the public sector for at least three years before or after completing their graduate education. In addition to the money, the award opens doors to incredible academic opportunities, other fellowships, scholarships, graduate school acceptance and job opportunities. The University of Vermont can nominate up to four students for a Truman Scholarship.

The national Truman 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 leadership background, and how their leadership experience demonstrates that they have the motivation and the know-how to bring people together and get things done, and 3) The applicant's overall academic and career goals, and how those show a demonstrated interest in working in the public service sector.

As a letter of recommendation writer, you may feel that you're in a good position to write on any or all of those points when it comes to your experience with your applicant. But the Truman Foundation tells students to ask for three letters of recommendation for this scholarship, and requests that each letter focus specifically on one of those aspects. Once the student tells you which area he/she would like you to focus on, there are a couple other things you can keep in mind:

Commitment to a Career in Public Service: When talking about public service, it's important to articulate specifically how you see this student making an impact at the local/state/national level. You may have a good sense of this from your academic, extra-curricular or community service experience with the student, and you may have an even better sense of where he/she can make an impact and how they can make an impact from your discussions with him/her.

Leadership Abilities and Potential: If your letter focuses on how you've seen this student act as a leader among his/her peers and if you can bring in anecdotes of events where you've seen this student rise above and beyond when they are challenged with a task, then you'll be in good shape. The student will be contacting you (if s/he hasn't already!) to talk a little more about this letter. That's because events the applicant describes in an application essay need to be reinforced in your letter.

Academic accomplishments (what Truman calls, "Intellect and Prospects for Continuing Academic Success"): If your letter focuses mostly on specific experiences with the student in your classroom, if you discuss specific events where the student stood out to you either in a class discussion or assignment, and if you can talk briefly about how the student demonstrated prowess as an academically and intellectually driven individual then you'll be good to go. Also, as this is technically a graduate school fellowship, it helps to articulate your impressions of how well the student seems academically and intellectually seems prepared for graduate work.

For more general letter tips, see the short (and humorous) anecdote below from Scott Henderson, a 1982 Truman Scholar who participates in the Truman Scholarship Finalist Selection Committee. Mr. Henderson has provided some general advice for Truman letters of recommendation.

Finally, a few administrative details:

  1. All letters need to be printed on letterhead, signed, and submitted as a hardcopy. Students are responsible for collecting letters and making sure they get to the FOUR office. If students are collecting their letter from you in person, please give it to them in a signed and sealed envelope.
  2. Letters can be addressed to: Truman Scholarship Selection Committee.

From the Desk of Scott Henderson: Helpful components in a letter of recommendation

When I read a letter, I want specific, even quantified data. For example: "Steve is among the three best spellers I've taught in 27 years at Bee University." Or, even if qualitative, I look for specific instances cited in support of a general point: "Susy's leadership was also demonstrated last March when she organized a campus-wide demonstration against Dr. Henderson's dress code."

Related to above: I find quotations from other professors/individuals helpful. "Dr. Drone also notes that 'Steve is among the top five students I've ever taught...clearly headed for academic success in grad school.'"

I also look for some sort of assessment of the student's personality and/or disposition. For instance: "Even though he has the highest GPA of any chemistry major at Test Tube University, Charlie's outgoing, friendly, and a lot of fun to be around. And the practical jokes involving litmus paper are a hoot."

Characteristics that undermine a letter of recommendation:

A letter that is nothing but a summary of the application is utterly useless. I feel like the writer is assuming that I can't read (sorta like sitting next to someone who reads movie subtitles out loud to you). Certainly, there can be SOME overlap between a letter and an application, but it should be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, one can get the sense that the writer really doesn't know the applicant.

The writer should know the student well. If not, then another writer should be chosen. If this, for some reason, isn't an option, then the writer should at least have a couple of meaningful/informative conversations with the student prior to writing the letter.

I'm really turned off by letters in which the writer talks about how well the student did in his/her class. Even in a letter attesting to academic potential, this is weak evidence to adduce; it's like saying, "Bill is one of the smartest people I've seen in the last 20 minutes." And, invariably, the professor throws in a line about how tough HIS/HER classes are; this makes it sound like it's the professor who's applying for the scholarship.

A letter shouldn't be written by an "important person" unless the person really knows the student. In other words, I would not be impressed by a letter from Bill Clinton if it were obvious that Clinton didn't know "that woman." At the other extreme, I'm generally not impressed by letters written by family members. I assume that a letter written by an applicant's mother will be positive regardless of the child's mediocrity (or prison record). Since I've actually read a Truman letter of rec from an applicant's mother, there's more truth than poetry (or humor) in my observation.

Letters should avoid vague platitudes that, in fact, are really evasions in disguise: "Betty is not a traditional leader, but instead leads by example" (translation: Betty hasn't demonstrated any leadership). Or: "Shelly's GPA should be evaluated in light of the tough standards we set here at Pleasantville Community College (translation: Shelly isn't a particularly good student). Or, finally: "Don completed his assignments on time." (translation: next application, please).

Letter writers should not feel compelled to substantiate or agree with every assertion an applicant makes. In 1997, for example, an applicant wrote this for number 7 (leadership example): "One part of leadership is the ability to inspire others. As a fashion model, I presented clothing in a way to inspire others to buy." Regrettably, the professor who wrote the leadership letter tried to justify why this was a good example of leadership. The applicant was not selected for an interview, and our tracking satellites have lost contact with the professor.

Office of Fellowships, Opportunities, and Undergraduate Research
50 University Heights North, Suite 017
Burlington, VT 05405
Phone: (802) 656-4658