Advice & Guidance

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Additional and more specific information on all of these topics is available in our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Campus Selection Process

The support of a Candidate's institution and faculty representative can make a crucial difference in the Candidate's ability to succeed in the competition.

Find potential candidates and encourage them to apply. Cultivate relationships with offices of admissions, community service, student government, and campus ministries. Admissions representatives know the incoming class better than anyone. Offices of community outreach and student government will have early contact with students devoted to service. These colleagues can help you devise a list of students who enter with an outstanding record of service and leadership. Institutions may also have an honors program or provide merit-based recruiting scholarships. These students are likely prospects and provide a good, early start to identification and recruitment efforts

Spread the word early - hold information meetings in the sophomore year, talk with classes, write an article for the college newspaper and the parent newsletter, provide information on the Web, broadcast information electronically. Send the message that it is never too early to think about the questions raised in scholarship applications and to get involved. The most effective encouragement, however, will come from personal contact, either with the faculty representative or with another faculty member.

Engage former applicants as recruiters. Other students may regard them as a more trustworthy source-one who "has gone before," one with whom they can share apprehensions and doubts. These former candidates often are the most passionate advocates of the application process.

Enlist faculty as scouts. Make sure faculty who teach students in the first and second years know about the scholarships and where to send promising students for more information and encouragement.

Provide campus activities to prepare candidates for the competition. 

Provide opportunities to reflect upon and discuss issues of public importance with peers, faculty, and community leaders, individually or in a group setting. Some institutions offer credit-bearing seminar courses or support extra-curricular discussion groups.

Invite students to university functions that help to boost students' level of comfort in talking with public figures and scholars outside the classroom.

Hold practice interviews. Candidates who have experienced one or more mock interviews are typically more comfortable, and generally more satisfied, with the interview. Some institutions hold mock interviews before finalists are announced, providing more preparation time for those advancing to interview and an important learning experience for those who do not. See also "Practice Questions" and the Interview section on this page.

Engage enthusiastic faculty support.

Recruit faculty active in academic and campus life. Talk to students; they will tell you which faculty members are available and helpful and which are distant and never around. Faculty members will feel more comfortable committing time and effort, too, if a senior administrator has made national scholarships a priority. Cultivate administrators-keep them informed; introduce them to candidates.

Recognize faculty service. Some institutions include this committee service in tenure and promotion review. In any case, be sure to recognize publicly your faculty volunteers' commitment. Hold a reception to honor nominees and their faculty mentors, including those who reviewed drafts, wrote letters of recommendation, and served on practice interviews. Sing your volunteers' praises to the president, dean, and department heads every chance you get-remind them of the important service these volunteers provide students and the institution.

Respect their time. Faculty at virtually every institution feel the pressures of time and over commitment (especially junior faculty). Let them know the schedule for interviews and letter writing as far in advance as possible; keep them informed as to where students are in the application process. Ask them to critique drafts of the students' applications, so they feel part of the process and invested in it. Give them lots of guidance for writing recommendation letters before they begin, such as the purpose of the scholarship and what qualities committees seek in successful candidates.

The Application

Encourage your Candidate to do several drafts and edit their application thoroughly. The following is advice for specific questions on the application.

Service: Questions 2-5

A Candidate's public service record is one of the most important criteria for selection.  Students without an extensive public service background will not be successful candidates - regardless of GPA or other accomplishments.  Unlike other gaps in the application (a lower class rank, no government internship experience, etc.), a lack of public service cannot be ameliorated by achievement elsewhere.

The committee considers the types of activities, extent of campus and community involvement, and the extent of government or political involvement. An outstanding record of public service includes sustained participation (at least two years) in three of the following activities while a good record includes sustained participation in two of the following activities:

  1. Campus service (Item 2)
  2. Community service (Item 3)
  3. Government service or political involvement either through helping on a person's campaign for elected office or participation with political advocacy groups (Item 4)
  4. Employment in a government agency or nonprofit organization in the candidate's intended field (Item 5)

Leadership and Personal Statements: Questions 7-9 and 12-14.

Examples of satisfactory and unsatisfactory answers to these questions are available in the For Candidates section.

Item 14 of the application is of extreme importance; like the Faculty Nomination Letter, this item allows for personality and context to give the application more meaning as a whole. The Candidates should write about significant dimensions of themselves or explanations of their commitment to careers in public service that have not been covered elsewhere in the application. Nominees do not have to write about extreme hardships or tragedies.

The Policy Proposal

Tips for choosing a topic and writing the proposal are available in the For Candidates section.

The proposal is less important than generally perceived. The answers to the narrative questions (Items 7-9, 11, and 14) are collectively much more important. The policy proposal is useful as a starting point for the Truman interview. While an outstanding policy proposal will not assure selection as a Finalist or Truman Scholar, a poorly prepared policy proposal will deny the nominee a chance to advance to the interview.

Other Written Materials: Faculty Nomination Letter, Transcript, Recommendation Letters

Poorly written Faculty Nomination Letters and recommendation letters can certainly impact applications overall--here are some pointers.

Faculty Nomination Letter: Effective letters of nomination address two items: how the Candidate meets the selection criteria, in particular stressing their potential to be a "change agent"; and how the Candidate qualifies as an outstanding representative of the institution. Letters should not, in general, exceed more than two printed pages.  The ideal nomination letter will:

  1. briefly discuss how the institution's Candidates are selected  
  2. identify and explain any unusual aspects of the school or curriculum or grading policy
  3. discuss a specific incident that reveals knowledge of the Candidate  
  4. explain apparent weaknesses in the candidacy  
  5. present observations of the Candidate developed during the application process

Transcript: In a transcript, the committee looks for assurances that the candidate would perform well at their intended graduate program. Specifically, the committee looks for:

  1. Strong grades in the fall of the junior year
  2. Ambitious curriculum and, preferably, at least one course in political science, government, American history, or public policy
  3. One or more courses related to the proposed career field

Letters of Recommendation: Click here to find articles regarding the dos and don'ts for Letters of Recommendation.

Finalist Selection Process and Committee

The Finalist Committee is made up largely of current and former directors of admission at public service-oriented graduate and professional schools, past Truman Scholars and college presidents.

The Finalists Committee uses a twelve-point scale in selecting Candidates for an interview. The following items are given a point value:

  • Public service record and commitment   
  • Leadership record  
  • Intellect, academic record and fit with proposed graduate study (includes policy proposal)
  • Quality of application: consistency of responses, presentation and writing, etc.

Please also see "Finalist Profile" for additional information.
For information regarding the number of applicants and finalists, the appeals process, and special circumstances, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Interviews, Regional Review Panels, and Scholar Selection Process

The Interview.

Each Finalist will have an intense 20-minute interview during which panelists and the Foundation representative ask questions. The Finalist is generally invited to make a short closing statement. 

The panelists pose questions that may enable Finalists to reveal their understanding of issues, breadth and limits of knowledge, thinking processes, and analytical abilities. They often take issue with one or two statements in the application. Finalists frequently must defend their opinions and priorities.

The interviews are generally serious and challenging; gentle interviews are helpful neither to the Finalist nor the panelists.
Finalists who are interviewing do themselves a disservice by:

  • spending too much time answering a question  
  • failing to answer the question that was asked  
  • answering before thinking
  • trying to guess what answer the panel wants to hear and responding accordingly
  • assuming that a provocative question reflects the genuine belief of the questioner - and responding accordingly.

Sample questions for practice interviews are available here, under "From the Foundation." Please see also "Scholar Profile" for additional information.
Regional Review Panels and Scholar Selection

The Foundation tries to include on each panel a federal or state judge, one or two current or past college/university presidents, a leader from the executive branch of government or the nonprofit sector, and a former Truman Scholar.

Among regions, all panelists are given the same criteria against which to judge the performance of  applicants.  Candidates are selected based on their ability to measure up to this uniform standard.

Finalists may not be moved to a different Regional Review Panel, nor may they request a second interview if they feel they have done poorly.