How to Obtain the Best Graduate and Professional School Recommendations
NACCS 2005 Conference, Miami, FL
Prepared by Nohemy Solórzano-Thompson
NACCS Secretary and PNW Foco Rep
When selecting who to approach to write letters of recommendation on your behalf, remember the following:
- Recommenders should know you well through a variety of settings and situations (not just through work or class) so they can speak about you as a person, not just as “student” or “researcher.”
- Recommenders should be people that have worked with you closely and are familiar with your educational aspirations, your academic successes, and extracurricular activities.
- The people you approach for letters should not be limited to professors or advisors. Extracurricular, work or volunteer references also make great recommenders.
- Recommenders should think highly of you and be willing to write a positive letter; it is okay to ask potential recommenders if they think they can write a strong letter. If they say they can’t, then don’t approach them for a letter.
- Ensure that you choose people who know you well over people who are well-known in their field. A short letter from a well-known person that doesn’t know you or your achievements very well carries little weight when compared to a letter from someone who knows you well and can accurately evaluate your work and future progress.
Approach potential recommenders ahead and ask if they would be willing to write a letter on your behalf. If they accept to write a letter on your behalf, then prepare the following packet of information at least a month before the deadline. Recommenders appreciate it when you provide this type of information as it helps them compose the best letter for you; failure to include these materials could potentially cause the recommender to decline writing a letter on your behalf.
Give your recommenders at least a month before the deadline:
- Information about the program or fellowship you are applying, along with a copy of all your completed application materials, including your essays (all completed and at least in a revised draft form)
- A copy of your transcript (ask the recommender if an official copy is alright)
- A copy of your most updated CV or resume (if you don’t know what these are, then go ask the career center, by now you should be compiling a CV or resume for all your applications)
- If the recommender was a professor you had in class, then submit a copy of any final assignment(s) you wrote for that class including all the notes/comments from the professor. This way your recommender can review your writing and recall his/her evaluation of your academic work.
- If your application essays do not ask for this already, then prepare a statement as to why you are applying to this program or fellowship, how it will prepare you for your future goals, and how it will complement your education
- Remember to provide recommenders all necessary materials for the letter (signed waivers etc., envelopes, addresses, web addresses if it has to be submitted online, etc.)
Once again, ensure you approach potential recommenders ahead and give them at least a month before the deadline, as they are busy people and rushing a letter is not in your best interest.
Tips on Applying to Graduate and Professional School Funding
When selecting which programs to apply to, research the following:
- The average yearly cost of attending the program (tuition, average cost of living, fees, health insurance, books and materials, transportation and travel, misc.)
- The average amount of aid given to students (loans, grants, fellowships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships). Be sure to ask the length of these funding opportunities (IE, do they cover only the first year? How can they be renewed? Etc.)
- The percentage of students who receive funding from the school and from outside sources
- Research on your own the average cost of living in the area where the institution is located to get a better sense of expenses related to housing, transportation, food, etc.
Once you have all this information, you can make a decision as to whether or not to apply to a program and what type of aid you might be able to secure, remember however, that you can always negotiate with a specific program to get a better offer. These are some of the ways you can obtain extra funding:
- Once you receive an offer for funding from the program/institution, negotiate to see if it can be increased to better meet your needs (if you have offers from other programs, you are in a stronger position to negotiate, but you should negotiate anyway)
- Inquire about other sources of funding from the institution – some have special fellowships or grants depending on your background, your course of study, or other factors. Inquire through the graduate program, the graduate school office, and if applicable the financial aid/fellowship office.
- Research if the institution has a graduate housing program that employs “graduate r.a.’s” to organize programs and compensates with reduced or free rent. This is an excellent way of complementing your financial package by eliminating housing costs. Be sure to find out the specifics of the job, etc., to determine if you qualify or are interested. I suggest you research through the institution’s graduate school office and housing office.
- After exploring all these other sources, then begin searching for outside grants. Even if your financial aid package is adequate to your needs, having an outside grant/fellowship makes you a more attractive candidate for subsequent funding and job offers. Remember, you need a fellowship to get a fellowship. Students with outside funding are often better regarded. For info about how to find out about outside funding opportunities see next page.
Researching Outside Funding Opportunities
- You should start by approaching your professors and advisors about grants/fellowships they recommend
- Career centers (or other appropriate offices) at most undergrad institutions have information about grants/fellowships; sit down with a counselor to discuss your course of study and future plans to see what they recommend.
- The next step is for you to research on your own. Remember this is for your schooling, so it is ultimately your responsibility. I recommend the following websites / archives of information. Researching through all of them is very time consuming but ultimately rewarding. I often hear students say, “but there isn’t anything for me.” This is not the case. It takes time to find appropriate grants/fellowships to apply for, but I guarantee that you can find at least 10 potential sources for which you can apply.
a. The Cornell University Graduate School Fellowship Database includes a searchable database organized around disciplines and other factors. It is extensive and time-consuming, as it lists thousands of opportunities. Search at http://cuinfo.cornell.edu/Student/GRFN/
b. The FSA (Federal Student Aid) has a resource page at http://studentaid.ed.gov/
c. The Foundation Center lists private foundations that fund students, http://fdncenter.org/for_individuals/
d. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Educational Center offers a directory of Scholarships, Internships, and Fellowships for Latino Students, see it at: (download from the website is free): http://www.chci.org/chciyouth/publications/publications_nd.htm
e. This site (compiled by Dr. Tomei) lists a wide range of funding opportunities, including a link for fellowships specialized designed for Latino Students, http://scholarships.fatomei.com/
f. A Better Chance has a page listing graduate education funding opportunities for Latinos http://www.abetterchance.org/ReferralOrgs&Resources/res-hispanicgrad1.htm
g. Joblatino.com lists the following fellowships and grants http://www.joblatino.com/scholar.html
h. The Hispanic Employment Program through the National Institutes of Health http://oeodm.od.nih.gov/hep/resources/financialaid.html
i. You should also approach the different Latino organizations to see what types of financial opportunities they offer, a list of some of these organizations can be found through the Hispanic Employment Program at http://oeodm.od.nih.gov/hep/resources/organizations.html
j. MALDEF has a guide of scholarships that do not require a SSN to apply, these can be accessed through the Northern California Foco website at NACCS http://www.naccs.org/naccs/Northern_California_FOCO.asp
k. Other useful links:
Prestigious and Generous Fellowships you might consider applying to:
Other grants you may inquire with your career office (or equivalent) since they often require institutional sponsorship and have first interview rounds at your school.
Beinecke Memorial Scholarship
Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
Luce Scholars Program
Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship
Harry S. Truman Scholarship
Morris K. Udall Scholarship
Watson Fellowship (available only at participating liberal arts colleges)