Advice for Students
What to Consider before Choosing Recommenders
Who is most familiar with my work?
The best letters of recommendation come from the people who can provide specific anecdotes about your experience and skills. Think about who has had repeated, meaningful interactions with you and your coursework, research, or performance in extracurricular activities.
How much time should I give my letter of recommender to write their letter?
When it comes to writing letters of recommendation, the more time you give your recommendation writer the better. Ideally, you should request a letter of recommendation 6-8 weeks before the actual deadline. You should make sure to send a reminder to your letter of recommendation writer one week before the deadline of the National Fellowship. Make sure to thank your recommender and keep them abreast with the results of the competition.
Should I ask my TA (teaching assistant)?
Ideally, you should ask a full professor instead of a TA for a letter of recommendation related to classroom performance or research. If, in the course of your research, you worked more directly with a graduate student than with a professor, the graduate student may be able to provide more specific examples of your knowledge and skills. In this case, it is worthwhile to have your professor and graduate student co-author a letter to which they both contribute their observations of your work and skills. If both parties are willing, the professor should be the one who signs the letter of recommendation.
Who can write about the breadth of my involvement and experiences?
Advisors for student organizations, employers, research supervisors, or directors of volunteer programs are all options for letters for most National Fellowships. Check if the fellowship that interests you has guidelines about who can provide the recommendations.
Who should I NOT ask?
Friends and family members are not appropriate choices for letters of recommendation. Public figures (elected officials, celebrities, etc.) are only appropriate recommenders if they have directly worked with you and can provide anecdotes about your academic performance or work experience with them.
What to Discuss when Requesting a Recommendation
· Your educational and/or career goals
· Which fellowship you are pursuing and why
· The projects, research, or study you will undertake during the fellowship
· The deadline for submitting the recommendation
· The topics you would like covered in the letter*
*Some National Fellowships require that recommenders address specific aspects of your skillset. Make sure your recommender knows the “prompt”!
If you provide your recommenders with drafts of your essays, request that they not refer to specific information in your essays because the essay content may change before final submission.
Advice for Recommenders
Once Upon a Time: Share engaging anecdotes about your interactions with the student. Providing concrete examples of the student’s achievement and potential is much more valuable than summary statements about the student’s performance in your class/lab/organization.
Starring…the student! Focus on the student’s actions, and avoid dedicating more words to describing your class or program than to describing the student.
The Spirit of Aggieland: Explain A&M-specific terms (like Muster, Freshman Leadership Organization, or Big Event) so that readers unfamiliar with our university’s organizations and traditions can understand them. Avoid referring to “Aggie values” or “Aggie spirit” without explaining what specific characteristics (loyalty, enthusiasm, service, etc.) are entailed, and never start a letter of recommendation with "Howdy!".
The Bare Minimum: Stating that a student never missed class or submitted all assignments on time does not help the student stand out among other high-achieving candidates. This level of effort is the bare minimum expected by nationally competitive fellowships.
Spelling Bee: Spell out all acronyms upon first reference. The acronym can be included in parentheses and used subsequently.
Juggling Jargon: Explain scientific and field-specific terms, processes, and equipment in layman’s terms. Can an educated reader from a different academic field understand what your student did?
I’m so excited, and I just can’t hide it! Express enthusiasm for the student’s candidacy for a fellowship.