Asking For Strong Fulbright Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation are a crucial component of the Fulbright US Student Program application. Your application materials should, as a package, speak to your ability to do what you propose. The Fulbright program is, at its heart, one of cultural exchange, and while you are a Fulbright grantee, you are an unofficial cultural ambassador for the United States. Your letters of recommendation should offer insight into both your people skills and your technical/research skills. The Fulbright Commission wants to know that you will be able to adapt to life in your host country as well as have a productive year conducting an independent project or teaching English.

As a whole, the three letters of recommendation should speak to:

  • Your maturity and adaptability

  • Your initiative and leadership

  • Your ability to carry out the work you propose

You want STRONG letters of recommendation. It’s better to have a strong letter of recommendation from someone who knows you well than a lukewarm letter from a big-name professor. An A in a class doesn't mean a professor will remember you or have a lot to say about your abilities/maturity, particularly if the class was a large lecture-style one.

Recommendations can be written by people in many different roles who know you from different contexts, including:

  • Professors (it’s a plus if they are knowledgeable in your proposed field of study or host country, but not required)

  • Teaching Assistants

  • Managers/Supervisors (can be on a job or volunteer work).

  • Co-workers or people you managed

  • Advisers who worked with you on a thesis or in independent research

  • Coaches

Don’t be shy about reaching out to recommenders. For university faculty, writing recommendations letters is part of their job. Here are some tips for making the recommendation request process smooth:

  • Reach out as soon as you know you want to apply and at least 6 weeks in advance of your deadline

  • Email a brief description of the award, grad program, etc. Even if you don’t yet know what country or research you want to do, write a few general sentences about what you are considering. It’s okay if it changes later. Ask if they can "write a strong letter of recommendation by X date". Ask them to confirm whether or not they can write the letter by X date (give them one or two weeks to confirm either way). You want to get a confirmation or decline as soon as possible, so you can ask backup recommenders.

  • Ask them if they are able to speak towards your maturity, ability to research, ability to X, Y, ,Z, etc. Give them concrete examples from when you demonstrated those abilities with them. Remind them of when you met, what grade you got, specific projects you did well, etc. and attach your resume. You want to make it as easy for them to say yes.

  • Once they confirm, let them know that you will follow up with submission details and an outline or draft of your proposal once you have it. They may even be willing to give you feedback on your drafts.

  • Send a reminder 4 weeks before the application is due.

  • If they have not submitted, send another reminder 2 weeks beforehand and keep sending reminders until it is submitted.

  • After they have submitted, send a thank you email or card.

  • Let them know what happened, regardless of whether or not you get the award.

Lauren Valdez