Guidance for Letters of Recommendation

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Truman applicants are required to provide three letters of recommendation in addition to the Institutional Nomination letter.  Each of the letters should address one of our selection criteria, but it is acceptable for a letter to discuss more than one criteria.

  1. Leadership Abilities and Potential:  This letter should confirm the experience described in Question 7 (specific example of your leadership).  The letter writer need not have witnessed the example first hand, but he or she should be able to discuss the example and how it fits within the context of the student's leadership.
  2. Commitment to a Career in Public Service:  This letter should confirm the experience described in Question 8 (recent, satisfying public service activity).  The letter writer need not have witnessed the activity first hand, but he or she should be able to discuss the example and how it fits within the context the student's commitment to a career in public service.
  3. Intellect and Prospects for Continuing Academic Success:  This letter should discuss the student's overall academic background in context of the student's future plans for career and graduate school (Questions 11 to 13).  It is recommended, though not required, that the writer have taught the student at some point.

General Advice and Suggestions:

  • We are unmoved by generic letters from people with recognizable names.  A well-written letter with specifics from an Associate Professor is always better than a letter from a big-name tenured professor who only saw the student in a large introductory class setting.
  • Letters do not need to all come from faculty members or be written in an academic style.  It is quite welcome, and often preferred, to have non-university personnel write letters to discuss a candidate's leadership or service.
  • Recommenders should have had recent contact with the student.  Letters from high school are rarely persuasive.
  • Letters should not be more than two pages long.  Letters that are much longer run the risk of not being read thoroughly.
  • Provide recommenders with draft copies of the relevant essays.  If that is not possible, please provide recommenders a resume.  Students should also make sure the letter writer understands the main points the student wishes them to convey.  It is always disappointing when a letter fails to mention things that are clearly significant to the student.
  • Letters should ideally be addressed to the Truman Selection Committee.  If a letter is addressed to a Faculty Rep or to the Executive Secretary of the Foundation, that is also acceptable.
  • We are selecting students, not their recommenders.  While letters of recommendation are helpful, a good letter will not elevate an otherwise mediocre candidate.  Likewise, a bad letter will not sink a terrific candidate.  

Letters should be requested by the student and delivered to the Faculty Rep.  The Faculty Rep is responsible for uploading the supplemental materials into our system. Please work together to ensure our deadline is met.  You may include the Reference Request Forms if you wish, but you are not required to do so.  You are free to use your own request forms or simply as the recommender to include a subject line at the top of his or her letter.

For Students:  Please see your Faculty Rep for any questions regarding letters of recommendation.  You may also wish to review the general guidance found on our website for letter writers.

For Faculty Reps:  Additional questions about letters of recommendation - both in terms of technical problems or for guidance on appropriate recommenders - can be addressed to Tara Yglesias.