Faculty Resources

Recommendation Letter Tips

Has a student recently asked you to write a recommendation letter? This page provides some prompts to help you compose a strong letter.

Background information

Ask the candidate for:

  • Information on the scholarship or fellowship

  • Their application essays

Meet with the candidate at least once. Talk with them about their aspirations and goals.


What can you say about the candidate’s:

  • intellectual curiosity

  • leadership

  • risk-taking

  • collegiality

  • written and oral communication skills

  • teamwork

  • integrity

  • maturity

  • potential for making major contributions to the discipline and to society

Other considerations

  • When did you meet the candidate?

  • What have you worked on together?

  • What do you admire about them?

Writing the letter

Address and Titles

Address letters to the chair of the scholarship committee, if the name is available; otherwise, to the committee (“Dear Marshall Scholarship Committee”). Use your full title, and use SMU letterhead. smu.edu/stationery

Personal Knowledge

Use stories about the candidate to highlight their abilities and characteristics. Avoid blanket superlatives.

Contextualize your professional and personal familiarity with the applicant.

Write something you would like to read.

Provide Evidence

Include specific projects and papers that highlight the candidate’s excellence.

Consider how these projects and papers lead into their proposed experience during the fellowship.

Candidate's Strengths

What makes the applicant a strong contender for this fellowship?

Keep focus on the candidate, not your institution (rankings, etc.)

Addressing merit or impacts of the proposed activity

How will this experience benefit their scholarship and/or career?

How will their work benefit society?

Recommendation Forms

Some fellowships will require you to complete a form or respond to specific prompts. Find this out early in the process.


Honest criticism can be okay, especially if the scholarship will rectify your reservations. But if you have substantial reservations about a student, it is best to decline writing them a letter.

Who Will See Your Letter?

Letters that require an SMU endorsement will be read by the Office of National Fellowships staff. Reviewers will include professionals such as yourself.