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Tips for Recommendation Letter Writers (Academic/Research)

Writing Fulbright Letters of Recommendation (Study/Research Grants)

The Fulbright US Student Program funds one-year post-graduate awards for study and research in more than 120 countries. Success in the Fulbright competition depends not only on the quality of the student’s application, but also on the strength of letters of recommendation. Following are some suggestions for writing effective recommendations for students applying for research-based Fulbright Grants:

  • Address the applicant’s “Fulbrightness.” Fulbright applicants are evaluated on: (1) the merits and feasibility of the proposed project, (2) knowledge of the host country, (3) academic and other qualifications, especially in regard to the proposed project, (4) language qualifications, if applicable, (5) evidence of maturity, motivation and ability to adapt to a different culture, (6) impression the applicant will make as a citizen-ambassador of the US. Since the student you are writing for is applying for a research-type grant, your letter should address the merits of the proposed project and as many of the other criteria as you feel you can speak to. Keep in mind that the Fulbright program is not only an educational exchange program; it is a cultural exchange program.
  • Tell “stories.” A litany of vague superlatives (“John is bright, conscientious and hard-working”) is of little value. The letter must bring the student to life with specific examples of exemplary achievement and ability as they relate to the aims of the Fulbright program and the evaluation criteria.
  • Avoid “hearsay.” Don’t base your letter on second-hand observations (“Professor Jones informs me that Jane’s work was the best in his class”). Write about what you have witnessed.
  • Write about the applicant. Fulbright selection committees don’t care about an institution’s US News ranking or other bragging points. Nor are they interested in the recommender’s credentials and accomplishments, except as they may provide important background and context for the letter. In short, put the spotlight on the applicant.
  • Make it special. Generic, uninformative and/or poorly written letters are the #1 reason for application failure in the Fulbright competition.
  • Make it letter-perfect.  Typos, misspellings, errors of grammar and syntax can harm an application. PROOF, PROOF, PROOF! And don’t rely on spell-check!

Important information about the letter submission process and deadlines:

  • When the applicant registers you in the Embark Online Application system as a recommender, you will receive a message from Embark with directions for uploading your letter. If you cannot find this email, ask the applicant to resend it via Embark.
  • IMPORTANT: If after submitting your letter online you discover errors or wish to make revisions, you must ask that the letter be “unsubmitted” and returned to you by sending a request to or by calling 415-615-1805. The system does not allow me to do this for you.
  • Please submit your letter online by Sunday, September 15. We need the letter for our campus interviews. Following the campus interviews, you may be asked to request unsubmission (see above) and make revisions. If this is the case, be sure to re-submit no later than noon (EDT) Tuesday, October 15.  At that time all applications are automatically sent to the Institute of International Education and the online system is shut off. If your letter is late, it cannot be added to the application, and the student’s chances of success will be greatly reduced.

Thank you for your support of the applicant and the Fulbright Program. If you have questions, please contact me, Dr. Monica Cable, Director of Fellowships, Franklin & Marshall College,  You may also find the tips on the Fulbright website useful: