Reference or Recommendation Letter for Fulbright Scholarship

Written by Talha Omer

April 1, 2014

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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

Fulbright Scholarship 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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  1. Avatar

    Hi, Taleh! First off, I must congratulate you on the commendable work you are doing for the students of Pakistan. I am writing from India. Your articles are helping me a lot in my journey toward understanding the process of Fulbright. I wish to understand if you have a template/ a sample for the letter which is supposed to be sent by the Ph.D. supervisor that comments on the scholar’s research work and the usefulness of the fellowship, and indicates the Ph.D. registration date and topic

    Also, can the supervisor after writing this also write a recommendation letter? Is he allowed to do both?

    Can you also write some stuff on writing CV and Personal Statement? How is the CV written? Somewhere I read that it should be written in narrative form.

  2. Avatar

    I am applying for fulbright 2016 and i wanted to know if the manager of the company where i completed a 6 week internship eligible to write my recommendation letter. He also supervised my Final year project in university. thank you.

    • Talha Omer

      Hello – Good references require at least a 6 month interaction time. So if you have no other better option then you can go with this 6 week reference.

  3. Avatar

    i need recommended letters .iam applying for Fulbright scholarship. please help me

  4. Avatar

    sir will you please send me formats

  5. Avatar

    if the LOR’s reach to the USEFP after the deadline of the application? will they accept these LOR’s after deadline

    • Talha Omer

      LORs should reach by end of May.

      • Avatar

        Talha I wanna study in USA. My overall Ielts score is 6 with no band less than 6 do you consult or suggest me any uni with this ilets score.My Cgpa is 2.84 or 70% marks. I have done Bs hons in physics from civil lines College lahore affiliated with punjab University lahore. My cell number is 03084430486.

        • Talha Omer

          Talal, you can reach us at 0331-4513196 to discuss options!

  6. Avatar

    If I make an account for a referee on the USEFP account, they do have a deadline to submit before 16th of May right?
    Also can you please tell me what sections are referees required to fill in their form?

    • Talha Omer

      Yes – they have to submit by 16th May – they have to fill all the info that is sent to them by USEFP

  7. Avatar

    Dear Talha,

    Its really helpful to read your recommendations to support students applying for the scholarships.
    Kindly let me know about the 3 references must have to be from our supervisors???or it have some other specification.

    • Talha Omer

      Hello! Ideally yes they have to be – but if you have someone else who can write for you but is not your direct manager or supervisor then he/she can also write (but they have to be familiar with your work)

  8. Avatar

    Do you have any sample recommendation letter for a teacher?

  9. Avatar

    I have been working for 5 years now and want to apply for Fulbright Scholarship. Is it okay if I submit one academic and two professional letters of reference.


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