Every year, thousands of Pakistani students apply for the Fulbright Scholarship
to pursue graduate and post-graduate studies in the U.S. As part of the application, 3 Letters of References
(LOR’s) also known as recommendation letters are required – academic and professional. Recommendation letters are extremely critical part of your Fulbright application as they provide an angle about you as seen by your professor’s and supervisor’s.
Reference letter writing is really a little-understood art, considering the major role that they play in every scholar’s career. LORs are taken very seriously, pored over, deconstructed, and discussed. So it is extremely important that you put in some effort to get in the good books of your professors and supervisors and ask them to write you powerful LORs. An ideal reference letter for the Fulbright scholarship or for any other application must cover the following important points.
A Positive & Concise Opening
In the very first paragraph, the referee must clearly and enthusiastically state the following:
• the capacity in which they know you
• for how long they have been working with you
• how would they rate you in comparison to other similar people they have worked with
As an example, you can look at this sample letter of recommendation
to look at the kind of opening I am talking about.
Examples, Examples and Just Examples
I have read hundreds of poor reference letters that just talk about how hard working, superb, diligent, punctilious, inquisitive or industrious an applicant is. For example, I read this reference letter a while back and one of the lines said: “Since her enrollment into my course, Rabya has embodied the fine character of strong inquisition and industriousness in learning, which has gained her significant success during her course. “
Wow wow….these are strong words. But do they mean anything? Do they make a positive impact? Do they impress? I think they don’t. These lines are nothing but a lot of arcane vocabulary thrown in a single sentence that says absolutely nothing of value about the applicant.
Therefore, in evaluating a student’s capabilities, the referee must describe the candidate by backing his traits with concrete examples – research papers, exams, class presentations, final year projects or performance in a laboratory or a specific incidence or interaction.
Potential to Contribute to Pakistan and the candidates Impact factor
prefers candidates who have the ability to significantly contribute towards the society and the economy of Pakistan – ability that I call the “Impact factor” of an applicant. Greater the impact factor, higher the chances that you will get the scholarship.
In a great recommendation, your referee must comment on your potential impact factor by using past examples. For instance, if in the past you did a project, research or took up a task that had an emphatic effect on the people around you, then the referee must highlight such experiences of the candidate.
Some Important Points
- If the candidate has a low GPA, then LOR can be the best part in your application to clarify this shortcoming to the USEFP committee. The referee can do this after consultation with the student. Low GPA can be clarified on the basis of family illness, financial hardship, or some other factor.
- If a referee can’t write a glowing LOR, then the most honest thing he/she can do is to inform the student and decline the candidate’s request.
- If some referee allows a student to write his/her own LOR, then they should make sure that they read it properly and agree with whatever has been written in LOR.
Pakistani students willing to target Fulbright scholarship must keep in mind the importance of a good letter of reference. They are very central towards deciding the outcome of your application.