Faculty members are essential to fellowships advising at Arizona State University, and our continued success in national scholarships and fellowships would not be possible without their contributions.
In addition to providing letters of recommendation, faculty members also play a key role by recommending opportunities to students, referring them to colleagues, advising students on application materials and project development, and providing fundamental, life-altering mentoring.
Whether or not a student wins a national scholarship or fellowship, your input and thoughtful advice throughout the application process can have a profound impact on the student's personal, professional, and educational development. The Office of National Scholarship Advisement is happy to provide guidance and information to help make the application process a positive experience for you and your student alike.
Faculty are involved in the national scholarship and fellowship application process at several stages:
The most competitive applicants for major awards are typically the most humble, and they often don't seek out recognition on their own. Therefore, faculty referrals can make all the difference in the application process. If you are teaching, supervising, or advising a student whom you believe to be exceptional, whether in leadership, intellect, or character--you should encourage them to make an appointment with ONSA at bass.barrett.asu.edu, and you can send ONSA director Dr. Kyle Mox a brief, informal email about the student.
We also encourage faculty and staff to subscribe to the ONSA Bulletin, a weekly summary of upcoming award deadlines, competition outcomes, and ONSA events. The ONSA Bulletin is the best way to keep up to date on the major awards.
If you have an exceptional student, a bit of thoughtful mentoring can move them up to the next level. Most national scholarships and fellowships seek students who show curiosity, initiative, and intellectual maturity; faculty mentors can have a huge impact on a potential fellowship applicant by...
- encouraging them to take challenging classes from respected colleagues;
- inviting them to departmental lectures, talks, and events;
- join you in hosting visiting scholars at social events;
- providing frank and focused feedback on their application materials;
- pushing them to "think big" and address the real problems in your shared fields.
All successful Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, and Truman scholars have at least one highly involved faculty mentor.
Letters of recommendation, evaluation, or reference are the 'currency' of academia, and without them, nobody moves up to the next level. Strong letters are especially crucial for success in national scholarships and fellowships competitions, which are by nature exceptionally competitive. If a student has asked you for a letter of recommendation for an award, they are doing so because they respect you and feel that you have had a significant impact on their lives.
The Office of National Scholarships Advisement is happy to provide advice and guidance to faculty writing letters of recommendation. In fact, we typically compose a detailed 'memorandum of guidance' for faculty who are writing letters for major awards - if a student has asked you to write a letter, you should ask them if ONSA has provided such a memo.
Broadly, however, the following advice holds true for most national scholarships and fellowships:
- Strong letters of recommendation make claims for the student's fit for the scholarship or fellowship and provide concrete supporting evidence.
- Providing context is important - consider what the audience doesn't know about ASU, your course, your research, or your and your student's backgrounds.
- Do moderate your praise - excessive praise can seem hyperbolic if not supported with examples; superlatives are appropriate when specifically tied to examples. Good descriptions illustrate relevant skills.
- When providing examples, use narrative techniques to show the student in action and illustrate your superlative descriptions.
- Offering fair criticism of the student can enhance your credibility. Consider (briefly) discussing the student's areas in need of improvement, and try to turn his or her shortcomings into virtues.
- Anything that erodes credibility - be sure that you have correctly addressed the audience and identified the name of the award. If you are adapting portions of previous letters, be sure that you've used the correct proper names and pronouns.
- Writing overlong about yourself or your research - while it is important to provide context, do remember that the primary focus of the letter should be the student.
- Back-handed compliments - at times, faculty must reach to find 'brag points' about their students, and these creative attempts can actually denigrate the student (e.g. pointing out that the student did moderately well in your class "despite missing numerous lectures," or that the student overcame limited ability and preparation with "exceptional work ethic"). If you cannot offer strong examples to support the student's application, then you should politely decline to write (see below).
- Discriminatory language - avoid any language that unnecessarily attentions the student's age, race or ethnicity, gender, physical appearance, or disabilities. An exception would be, of course, when an aspect of the student's identity presented significant challenges that he or she overcame (e.g. a woman in a male-dominated field, an ethnic minority who confronted prejudice, a student who overcame a significant physical disability).
When to say no
In some cases, declining to write a letter might be the best thing to do. Saying 'no' to a student for a valid reason is preferable to writing a less-than-helpful letter of recommendation. Feel free to decline...
- If the students ask too close to the deadline (students advised by ONSA know to ask at least four weeks in advance);
- If a student asks you in an unprofessional manner (students advised by ONSA are instructed on proper etiquette);
- If you cannot recall anything specific about the student, aside from the records in your grade book;
- If you feel that you cannot provide an overall positive evaluation or if you have reservations about the student's commitment, motivation, or character; or
- If you feel that you are not an appropriate referee for this particular award, or that your observations will not be relevant to the selectors.
Faculty committees play a crucial role in the national scholarship and fellowship process. Many of the "marquee" fellowships require faculty committee endorsement, and students who proceed many require preparatory practice interviews to enhance their competitiveness. Faculty who serve on these committees report that it is the most satisfying and enjoyable campus service.
University Nominating Committees
Many awards require University endorsement or nomination - these choices are made by faculty committees who review preliminary application materials and participate in on-campus interviews of our applicants. The purpose of the nomination process is to evaluate the applicant and to give constructive criticism to help them with final revisions prior to the national deadline. Faculty members from all fields are encouraged to participate as we attempt to match the background and expertise of the panelists to each student.
If you are interested in serving on one of these nomination committees, please e-mail Laura Sells at Laura.Sells@asu.edu.
The following national scholarships and fellowships require university nomination or endorsement and therefore have additional application requirements and deadlines:
British & Irish Scholarships
(incl. Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Gates Cambridge, Churchill) This collection of well-known awards supports graduate study at world-renowned universities in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Nomination and interview prep occur in early September-October.
The Fulbright US Student program is the world’s premier international exchange program, providing year-long grants to study, conduct research, pursue artistic projects, or teach in over 150 countries. Campus committee review and interviews are in mid-September.
This award recognizes the nation’s very best undergraduate students in math, science, and engineering. Each university in the United States may only nominate up to four students for this award. ASU endorsement process is in early December.
This award is the most prestigious award for undergraduates who are pursuing careers in public service. Each university may nominate only four students for this award. ASU endorsement is in November, and a committee interview is required.
This program provides educational exchanges for US and Canadian undergraduates. Killam recipients may spend a semester or an entire academic year at a Canadian university. Each participating university is limited on the number of applicants that they may nominate; the campus deadline to apply for nomination is in early January.
This award provides $7,000 to outstanding undergraduate students pursuing careers related to environmental conservation, or Native American students pursuing careers in tribal public policy or health care. Each university may nominate only four students in either category; the campus deadline to apply for nomination is in early February.
Practice Interview Panels
Additionally, we frequently organize practice interview panels for applicants who progress in the fellowships application process. Programs such as the Rhodes, Marshall, and Truman Scholarship include a rigorous interview process for applicants, and we rely heavily on faculty members to help prepare nominated students so that they feel confident representing ASU on a national level. The primary intention of the practice interview is to allow students to become familiar with the rhythm and pacing of an interview of this type and expose them to questions that they are likely to encounter in the actual interview. Additionally, the practice interviews should also accomplish the following:
- Offer practice in giving clear, direct, thoughtful, and concise answers to complex questions;
- Inspire candidates to think deeply about the issues suggested by their application;
- Invite candidates to address hypothetical situations that pose difficult ethical or moral choices; and
- Challenge candidates to demonstrate the breadth of their understanding of Western cultural traditions, their awareness and understanding of world events, and their familiarity with the program.