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Asking for a Letter of Reference

Guidelines for British Fellowships Letter Writers

The Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, and Gates-Cambridge Scholarships have similar, but not identical, goals and criteria. Suggestions for people writing letters of reference for each of these fellowships appear below. Give a copy of the relevant guidelines to each of your letter writers.

Rhodes [pdf]
Marshall [pdf]
Mitchell [pdf]
Gates Cambridge [pdf]

Asking For a Letter of Reference -- Applicable to All Fellowships

Take Your Cues From The Fellowship Information and Application

Analyze the fellowship’s purpose and criteria, and choose recommenders accordingly. How many references will you need? Which letter writer will fill which role? Take seriously any instructions to select letter writers who can speak to particular criteria. If in doubt about who to ask, consult the Graduate Fellowships Coordinator or the Faculty Advisor for that fellowship.

A helpful letter of recommendation reveals qualities that don't show up on transcripts or resumés. To give letter writers further insight into your intellectual and personal character, consider providing them with written responses to questions such as:

Why do you want to ....? (study at Oxford, go on a Fulbright year to teach English in Korea, etc.)

What in your background prepares and qualifies you for the scholarship or fellowship you are seeking?

What are your goals five, ten or twenty years from now?

What experiences have you had that reveal your leadership, creativity, motivation, and other qualities relevant to this particular fellowship?

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Try For A Mix Of Recommenders, And Tell Them Their Roles

Your letters collectively should present a thorough and balanced picture of you with respect to the criteria for this particular fellowship. Tell each letter writer why you selected him or her, what you’d like them to address, and who else will write from a different angle.

Ask At The Right Time And Place

Make an appointment at least a month in advance of the deadline to sit down and discuss why you are applying for this award, and how it fits into your longer-range plans. Tell potential recommenders why you have selected them. Provide information to remind them of the work you did under their supervision, as well as general information about the fellowship, and the current draft of your application. Seek their advice as you revise—these should be the people who know you best, and who can help you most.

Leave Room For A "No"

Ask each potential recommender if he or she can write the kind of letter you need. If a person seems reluctant after you have provided all relevant information, accept this and move on. If someone is too busy to write a detailed letter, or does not know you well enough, their letter will probably not be helpful to your candidacy.

Follow Up

Check to make sure the letter has been sent before the deadline, and give a gentle reminder as necessary. Send thank-you emails after everything has been submitted.

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