Advice for Faculty
At Mercer, we have the rewarding opportunity to develop mentoring relationships with excellent students.
Part of mentoring is encouraging students who show promise to apply for fellowships and scholarships that offer them opportunities for growth and development. Always feel free to nominate a promising student by contacting the Director of Fellowships and Scholarships.
Faculty play a crucial role in the application process by writing letters of recommendation. Strong letters of recommendation discuss a student’s suitability for a particular fellowship and emphasize the referee’s involvement with and knowledge of a student. In your letter, explain how the student exemplifies the specific criteria of the fellowship at hand. Comment on how the student will contribute to the particular fellowship program or to the school or academic program the fellowship would support. Also, explain how the fellowship opportunity will make a difference in the candidates’ intellectual and personal growth.
Before writing a letter to support a student’s application, review the information about the award that is on our website and that the student has provided to you about the fellowship and their proposed project or course of study. The student’s statement about his or her interests and goals is important, but following this material too closely can lead to letters that sound the same.
Ask the candidate who else is writing a letter of support and what the other writers will most likely emphasize. Having this information will help you write a letter that will complement the other letters. Ideally, an applicant’s letters will provide a comprehensive picture of his or her qualities and achievements rather than repeating the same points over and over.
In your letter, discuss how long you have known the student and in what context, evaluate the student in relation to other students who are in the field or who have applied for this particular fellowship, and comment on the student’s application for this particular fellowship and support the main claims the student makes in his or her application. Cast the student in a unique light, discussing one or two qualities or experiences that make this student especially appropriate for the fellowship. Provide detailed descriptions and evaluations of the student’s scholarly work, especially a major piece of research or special accomplishment. If a paper or project was particularly excellent, discuss it and why it stood out. If the student did outstanding work in another area, discuss the work and its strengths, especially as they relate to the goals of the fellowship. If you have supervised the applicant in research or other activities, explain the significance of the work and the nature of the student’s contributions.
Address letters to the person who chairs the fellowship committee if you have that information; otherwise, address the committee as a whole, for example, “Dear Fulbright Committee.” The student should provide you with the address to which to send the recommendation. Letters of recommendation for major fellowships are typically one-and-a-half to two pages single-spaced. Submit the letter on departmental letterhead, and close with your signature and your full title or titles, as in “Assistant Professor of Chemistry” rather than “Assistant Professor.” If you are submitting letters of recommendation electronically, you will be prompted by the foundation with login and password information. Please hold on to this information until the competition cycle has ended. You may need to access the system at various points in the process. You can find more advice about writing letters of recommendation here.
The Director of Fellowships and Scholarships will be happy to assist in writing strong letters of recommendations.
For almost all fellowship applications, generic letters of recommendation harm the applicant. Unlike general purpose letters of recommendation filed with dossier services, letters for fellowship applications need to be tailored to the fellowships for which the student is applying. If you do not have time to prepare a special letter of recommendation for a student, you should decline to write the letter.