Guidelines for finding references

A graduate-level Fulbright grant applicant

A Fulbright grant applicant has to attach letters of recommendation (in English) to their application. The letters of recommendation have an important role in the success of the application. With the letters, a reference can provide reasons why the applicant would be an excellent choice to receive the grant. Along with the letters of recommendation, what matters in the selection process is the application itself, the applicant’s certificates, a discipline-specific expert statement requested by the Fulbright Finland Foundation, and the interview.

The applicant does not have to have a place of study when applying for the Fulbright grant. The place of study is searched for after the grantees have been selected. Here, the selected grantees can use their letters of recommendation also for the applications for the American higher education institutions. In the U.S., the Letter of Recommendation is one of the most important factors when applying to a higher education institute, along with the essays, test results, and grades. The importance of the letters of recommendation is particularly high at the end of the selection process, as all the finalists are often equal, and one attempts to find differences between them.

The number of recommendation letters

Please attach three letters of recommendation to your Fulbright application. 

Usually you also need to attach at least three letters of recommendation in the graduate-level applications for U.S. higher education institutions. The number of the required letters of recommendation are informed in the application instructions of each institution.

Choosing the references

Consider carefully who you want to ask for references. Prefer, if possible, people who know you the best and who you think will write the most positive and efficient letter about you. The person’s status or title is not the most important aspect when choosing the references but you should rather ask a person who has a good knowledge of you and your ways of working. In other words, the high status of a reference alone is not enough to make the letter of recommendation convincing.

Examples of suitable references to support your Fulbright grant application are professors and teachers who have taught you, your supervisors, and employers in your own field.

If you wish, when choosing references you can take into account the potential reference criteria of those American higher education institutions that interest you, in case you already know which institutes you want to apply to when writing the Fulbright grant application. The American higher education institutions might, for example, only accept references from persons in specific positions.

Begin collecting the letters of recommendation well in advance; a few months before the application deadline at the latest. This gives your references enough time to write the letters.

Assisting the reference and the follow-up of the letter of recommendation

Discuss your academic plans and reasons to apply to study in the U.S. with your reference before they write their letter of recommendation. Think about in advance what you possibly want the reference to emphasize in their letter and bring these issues forth in your conversations. Provide your reference with your latest academic certificates, the transcript of study records, your CV, and other possible certificates that help your reference to write an excellent letter to support you.

Notify your reference of the final deadline for the letter of recommendation. Ask if there are any questions that have come up when writing the letter, and remind them of the final deadline. Find out before the deadline if the requested references have arrived at the Foundation.

The template for the letter of recommendation and sending the letter

The letters of recommendation for the Fulbright grant program are written on a standardized electronic template. The applicant has to send their references the guidelines of how to fill in the electronic letter of reference. (If a reference cannot fill in the electronic letter of reference, the applicant has to give them a paper template, which can be downloaded from the application program. Once the reference has filled in the template, the applicant mails it directly to the Fulbright Finland Foundation.) Please see more information about sending and downloading the letter of recommendation template on the Fulbright Finland Foundation website.

The right to see the letters of recommendation

In the grant program application you are asked to give up the right to see your letters of recommendation ("Yes, I waive my right to review the information contained in the evaluations submitted by recommenders on my behalf"). The Fulbright Finland Foundation does not allow applicants to see their letters at any point of the selection process, or thereafter.

In addition, it is very common for the application forms for U.S. higher education institutions to ask you to decide whether or not you want to see the letters of recommendation after the selection process. At this point, you can decide whether you would like to see them or not.

Further information

Donald Asher: Graduate Admissions Essays
Kaplan: Graduate School, A Strategic Approach