Advice to Recommenders

Letters of Recommendation: What Works, What Doesn't

What Works

  • Help the selection committee understand in what capacity and context you know the candidate: as their tribal leader or community member, research supervisor, through volunteer activities, professional experience, and for what length of time. Whenever possible, indicate that you know the candidate personally. Summarizing activities listed on the resume or reviewing the transcript is not particularly helpful to our readers.
  • Provide concrete evidence of the candidate's leadership and service activities. The more specific the examples, the better. The most effective letters use narrative technique to highlight the candidate in action, as an innovator, activist, volunteer, researcher, or teaching assistant, and convey the candidate's enthusiasm and dedication.
  • Convey to readers the scope of responsibility the candidate assumed; readers look for evidence of results. What impact did the candidate's actions have?
  • Address the internship criteria specifically. Udall Interns are selected for their potential to shape the future of tribal policy, demonstrated commitment to Native American issues, and academic excellence. Readers look for sustained participation in tribal activities; assumption of leadership roles; evidence of initiative, and coursework or research that complements their activities and career goals.

What Doesn't

  • A letter that is so generic that almost anyone's name could be inserted.
  • Letters that focus more on the institution (U.S. News ranking, quality of student body) or on the merits of the recommender (high grading standards, academic fame).
  • Telling readers that the candidate did the reading for class and showed up on time. That should be taken for granted, and implies that other students didn't.
  • Letters that focus exclusively on the candidate's potential for success in graduate or law school. Although many Udall Interns do pursue graduate degrees, community service and leadership are more important qualities for the internship.