Recommendation letters


Faculty recommendations are a crucial component in all fellowship applications. Your insights into students’ intellect, interests, and personal qualities help review committees develop a unique image of the candidate. Here are some guidelines for putting your candidate in the best position possible:

  • Provide specific, concrete examples of evidence of the student’s abilities.
  • Convey a sense of what makes the student unique.
  • Comment on the merits of the proposed research project or course of study.
  • Offer measurable comparison to other students you have known.
  • Discuss the student in the context of the goals and values of the fellowship.
  • Where applicable, include comments from colleagues or teaching assistants.
  • Expressing criticism or room for improvement can sometimes bolster the impact of your letter. However, if you feel you cannot offer enthusiastic support, you should feel free to decline the student’s request.

Student Responsibilities

Our office advises students to be proactive in letter writing process. Here are some actions students should take to help you prepare your letter:

  • Request the letter no fewer than three weeks before a deadline and offer an in-person meeting.
  • Offer an outline of their research proposal or plan of study.
  • Provide you an overview the fellowship's goals.
  • Remind you of their interactions with you that are relevant to the fellowship.
  • Provide you their written work to help you write an informative, enthusiastic letter.
  • Instruct you about deadlines and application processes.

Deciding not to write a letter

Cases in which you may choose not to write a letter include:

  • You think you are not in the best position to offer emphatic support.
  • You lack sufficient evidence of a student’s abilities.
  • The student doesn’t provide you enough time to write a good letter.
  • The student’s approach to you or the fellowships process is unprofessional.

In these cases, you may wish to refer a student our office or to your colleagues. Feel free to reach out to Undergraduate Research and Fellowships to discuss any questions you may have.

Columbia’s Endorsement

For some fellowships, students must receive the endorsement of their institution before they can apply. This is also called nomination. In these cases, Undergraduate Research and Fellowships runs a preliminary internal competition. You submit your letter by e-mail to You can often write one letter for a student for more than one fellowship.

If a student is endorsed, you may need to submit your letter later through the on-line application portal for the fellowship.

Feel free to reach out to Undergraduate Research and Fellowships with any inquiries.