Writing Recommendations for the Rhodes Scholarship

As one Rhodes Selection Committee chair put it, “We are looking for students who exhibit well-rounded excellence with a ‘bulge’—some distinctive quality that really stands out from the many other excellent applicants.” Thus letters should emphasize what makes the candidate a genuinely remarkable individual. From personal experience, discuss one or more specific examples of outstanding accomplishment, creativity, or other notable achievement by the candidate. Rhodes Scholars are expected to be good ambassadors to the UK and, afterward, to represent the UK well in the US. The scholarship is intended for people who will be leaders in their fields and will contribute to the welfare of others. It should also be clear that the applicant has the potential to perform well in his or her chosen program at Oxford, where students are unlikely to find as much structure or on-going academic feedback as they have here. Writers should comment on specific attributes and accomplishments of the candidate that are relevant to these considerations.

Public service in the broadest sense is important in the Rhodes selection. Concrete examples of altruism, activism, and service to others are helpful. While participation in organized sports is no longer the measure of “the energy to use one’s talents to the full” as it was in the early days of the Rhodes Scholarship, the physical vigor and emotional resiliency to carry out substantial leadership responsibilities as a citizen and a professional are important.

Criteria your letter should address include:

  • Proven intellectual and academic achievement of the highest standard;
  • Integrity of character, and demonstrated interest in and respect for his or her fellow beings;
  • The ability to lead, and the energy to use his or her talents to the full.

Rhodes Scholarship Committees seek letters that are both glowing and genuine. Committees may be skeptical of letters that are too effusive or unqualified in their praise, and recommenders are encouraged to take a forthright tone. If relevant, include discussion of areas in which the candidate has not reached his or her full potential, and how this can be achieved. The recommender should know the candidate well, believe she or he is truly exceptional, and be able to write a very strong 2-page letter with concrete examples that present one or more specific experiences of outstanding accomplishment or performance by the candidate.

The Rhodes selection committee will ask for a draft of your letter before the national deadline to help us in our internal nomination process. I am happy to talk with you about writing a recommendation for this or other fellowships, and to respond to drafts. Thanks very much for helping our applicants! See more about the Rhodes Scholarship at www.rhodesscholar.org