Instructions For The Writer Of a Recommendation Letter

Tips for the writer of a recommendation letter for a Fulbright graduate level grant applicant.

Those applying for a Fulbright grant are required to include recommendation letters in their application. Recommendation letters play a significant role in the candidate’s success in applying for a Fulbright grant. The purpose of the recommendation letter is to demonstrate why the recommended candidate would be an excellent choice as a grantee. In addition to the recommendation letters, documents such as the candidate’s application, degree certificate and transcripts, evaluation provided by an academic expert to the Fulbright Finland Foundation, and the interview, play a role in the selection process.

The applicant is not required to have been admitted into a higher education institution when applying for a Fulbright grant. The application process to universities and colleges in the United States begins after the grant selections have been made, and consequently the selected candidates are able to use the recommendation letters included in their grant application for the university applications as well. In the United States, a letter of recommendation is an important component of the university admission process in addition to personal essays, test scores and previous grades. Recommendation letters become particularly important towards the end of the admission process, when the finalists are often evenly matched and admission officers consider the distinctive features in each of the applications.

The length and submission of a recommendation letter

  • The recommendation letter should be no more than two pages in length. Although a recommendation letter is more about quality than quantity, a letter containing only a few sentences is not recommended. An overly short letter does not provide a comprehensive view of the applicant and is unlikely to improve the applicant’s chances of being admitted to a U.S. university or college.
  • Letters of recommendation addressed to a Fulbright grant program are submitted through an electronic grant application form. The person asking for the recommendation uses the application form to send the recommender an email containing the instructions for filling out the recommendation form. (If the recommender is unable to complete the form online, the recommended person must provide the recommender with a downloadable version of the form. After filling out the form, the recommender sends it by post directly to the Fulbright Finland Foundation.)

Before writing the recommendation letter

  • Please ensure that you are ready to provide a suitable recommendation for the student requesting it – agree to provide a recommendation only if you are sincerely willing to recommend the student.
  • If needed, take a moment to talk with the student about his/her academic background, plans and goals – the more you know about the student, the more effective the recommendation will be.
  • If needed, obtain additional information in order to write an effective recommendation letter, such as the applicant’s academic transcript, samples of their work, or their CV.

Writing a recommendation letter

  • Write the recommendation letter in English.
  • Explain how long you have known the student and in what capacity.
  • In the letter, emphasize those qualities and academic achievements that the student has that demonstrate his/her ability to reach his/her objectives.
  • Provide concrete proof and examples to support the adjectives you use to describe the student. 
  • Describe what kind of knowledge and skills the student has acquired over the course of his/her studies and what his/her capabilities are.
  • Comment on the student’s level of expertise in his/her academic field.
  • Describe assignments that the student has completed commendably.
  • Describe what makes the recommended person special or unique.
  • Explain why studying in the United States would benefit the student and his/her academic field in general.
  • Comment on the feasibility of the student’s plans. 
  • Evaluate the recommended person by comparing him/her to his/her fellow students by telling, for example, whether the student is in the top 5 %, 10 % or 30 % of your students.
  • A recommendation letter can be used to evaluate the recommended person’s personal qualities, such as:
    • Ability to work independently/in a team
    • Intelligence
    • Academic success
    • Diligence
    • Commitment to his/her field
    • Analytical skills
    • Communication skills (oral and written)
    • Leadership skills
    • Organizational skills
    • Maturity
    • Originality
    • Motivation
    • Potential (in his/her field, as a teacher)
    • Work habits
    • Social skills
    • Adaptability
  • Talk about the student’s importance in relation to the future of his/her academic field.
  • Include your title and employer in the letter.
  • A recommendation letter can be signed by two individuals.
  • Keep in mind the final date for submitting the recommendation letter.

Right to see the recommendation letter

  • In the application documents, the applicant is asked to waive his/her right to see his/her recommendations. The Fulbright Finland Foundation does not make the recommendation letters available to the applicants or the chosen candidates.
  • However, the applicant may be able to access his/her recommendation letters later at the U.S. institution where they have been sent during the applications process. The application forms for many higher education institutions ask the applicant to indicate whether he/she is willing to waive his/her right to see the recommendation letters sent to the institution. If the applicant is not willing to waive this right, he/she will be able to access his/her recommendations after student selections have been announced.

Additional information:

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