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Honors Center

Advice for Recommenders

City College students regularly excel in national scholarship competitions, winning highly selective Truman, Goldwater, NSF, Fulbright and other awards. These successes are due in no small part to the generous support of faculty and other mentors like you. We thank you in advance for your willingness to devote time and care to writing letters of recommendation for our candidates.

A strong letter of recommendation can make an important contribution to a candidate's chances for success. Below are a few guidelines for writing effective recommendation. Candidates might also provide specific details for writing recommendations from program websites.

If you have any questions about preparing your letter, please feel free to contact Jennifer Lutton at or 212.650.6726

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Review selection criteria for the scholarship. Applicants will provide details on the criteria. Knowing what the scholarship is looking for will help you understand how to present your candidate. For example, Truman looks for candidates committed to public service; Goldwater looks for candidates devoted to scientific research; Udall looks for students dedicated to environmental issues; Rhodes looks for all-around excellence at the highest levels.
  2. Letters should make the candidate come alive. Because many top scholarship competitions interview finalists, recommendation letters should make the selection committee want to meet the candidate in person. Drawing on specific examples, show what makes the candidate a special person to have in class, in the lab, or at an internship or volunteer setting. Discuss papers, projects, activities, and conversations to help the student stand out in the reader’s mind. 
  3. Describe any unusual or outstanding quality or ability you think makes the candidate well-qualified for the scholarship.  All applicants have outstanding academic records and accomplishments. Highlight what makes your candidate different. Be specific about the candidate’s potential to succeed in graduate study and/or their chosen profession.   Discuss how the candidate demonstrates exceptional critical abilities, originality, intellectual curiosity, capacity for leadership, and potential to be a change agent.
  4. Avoid repeating highlights from the candidate's resume. The most effective letters provide information and personal experiences and anecdotes that build on details and reveal qualities not evident in resumes.
  5. If for any reason you feel unable to write a strongly supportive letter, it is best for the candidate if you gently decline.