- Who should I ask to write a letter of recommendation? Generally speaking, the most effective reference comes from someone who knows you well and can attest to your capabilities and potential.
For the Marshall you need four letters of recommendation, two of which should distinguish your academic abilities. Your faculty recommenders must have taught you in the United States, not overseas. If you had a professor at Princeton, for example, who has since taken a position at Oxford, that is acceptable.
For the Rhodes you need five to eight references, so use them to give the evaluation committees a sense of all aspects of your life. While you should have several academic references, you should also have others that attest to your character and leadership.
For the Fulbright you must select people who can comment specifically on your project proposal and your ability to carry it out. Thus, your referees should know you well and have the ability to evaluate the quality and feasibility of your project.
Keep in mind that no letter of recommendation, no matter how positive, will better your chances if it is received late. When asking for references, you must emphasize the date that it is needed. Provide the writer with an addressed and stamped envelope, or offer to deliver the letter if appropriate. References are an extremely important part of any fellowship application, and you should do whatever is necessary to ensure that yours are submitted correctly.
Should I ask only professors to write for me, or is it okay to have a preceptor as a reference? A preceptor who knows you well could serve as an effective reference. It is preferable to choose someone who knows you well to write on your behalf rather than someone eminent in your field who only knows you vaguely.
- Should my referees write one letter of recommendation for me that I can use for each fellowship application? No, not if you have a choice. Each competition is different in what it requests from each recommender. A generic letter of recommendation may not comment specifically enough on what needs to be addressed. If your recommenders write a separate letter for each application, you will have a more competitive entry. Also, several applications require the recommender to complete a specific cover sheet.
- Should I apply for every fellowship that interests me? Each application is extremely time-consuming. Given the application deadlines, however, you might increase your prospects by concentrating your efforts on one or two well-constructed applications. On the other hand, you could find that you are in a “groove” and are able to do several applications while focused on the task. Remember that you can apply for most fellowships (except the Dale, Labouisse, ReachOut56-81 and Sachs) after you graduate from Princeton.
- If I do decide to wait until after graduation to apply, will my chances of winning an award decrease? No. Princeton’s experience has been that graduating seniors and alumni have similar experiences to undergraduates applying for fellowships. In some cases, taking a year to work full time or pursue graduate study can help you define your objectives more clearly, and thus improve your application.
- If I decide to wait until after I graduate to apply for fellowships, can I take advantage of Princeton’s advising network? Absolutely. Fellowship advisers are willing to review essays, answer specific questions and write institutional letters of recommendation, if appropriate. Use e-mail, Skype, phone, and fax to facilitate long-distance communication.
- I have no idea which fellowships fit my background and goals. How do I know which I should apply for? Examine your goals, and decide what opportunity(ies) you would like to pursue. Then investigate which fellowships meet your needs. Your academic performance will, to an extent, determine your eligibility. Remember that you generally need a high grade point average (at least a B+) to compete. A meeting with Dr. Deirdre Moloney, director of fellowship advising, may help give you direction. Call 8-1998 to schedule an appointment.
Keep in mind that regardless of how well you think a fellowship may fit in with your career plans, there are other avenues to explore. Talk to your departmental advisers and the Office of Career Services about alternate ways to achieve your goals. On the other hand, do not feel that a fellowship will deflect from your career goals. Indeed, it may enhance them.
- I want to talk with an adviser about a particular fellowship, but she/he is unavailable. What should I do? Read the literature on the fellowship thoroughly. Go through each question on the application. During this process, write down specific questions. Contact Fellowship Advising (8-1998) with any questions. Dr. Moloney will either answer your questions or direct you to the appropriate adviser.
Applying for a fellowship will demand a significant amount of independent work. Conduct research before you meet with an adviser to better prepare yourself for the discussion. Your initiative and research will often reflect the extent of your interest and the perception of you as a scholar.
- Up to this point, I have had very casual but productive conversations with my Marshall and Fulbright advisers. I just realized that these individuals also write letters of recommendation for me on behalf of Princeton! Should I have been more formal with them? No. The advisers want to assist you with your application, and they can best help and represent you if you share your thoughts and intentions openly and honestly. You do not need to wear a suit.
For the Fulbright, you will have a “formal” interview, which is not really formal. Rather, it gives the adviser a more complete sense of your reasons for undertaking the project and the abilities that will enable you to successfully follow through. Hint: If you look at the Campus Committee Evaluation form that the adviser will complete for you (which is included with the application packet), you will get an idea of the kinds of questions to expect.