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Encouraging Students To Compete for Prestigious Scholarships

Most students enter college wholly unaware of opportunities like the Rhodes Scholar Program or the James Madison Fellowship. Perhaps the single most important role faculty can play in encouraging students to compete for prestigious scholarships is simply to make students aware that such scholarships exist.

  • Inform students that Ripon has a National Scholarship Team eager to support their quests for prestigious awards.
  • Provide students with the National Scholarship Team brochure. Encourage them to explore this web site. Students are more likely to consider applying for nationally-competitive scholarships if they know they’ll have support throughout the process.
  • Make the National Scholarship Team aware of any student who shows exceptional academic promise. The NST then can reach out to the student with invitations to special events and opportunities to meet with specific scholarship advisors.
  • Help students understand how scholarships, fellowships, grants and awards might help them achieve their dreams of attending graduate school or traveling the world.

Grooming Students For Success

Faculty members play a critical role in preparing students to vie for nationally-competitive scholarships, fellowships, grants and awards. Whether advising a first-year student to take a particular class or engaging a junior in collaborative research, faculty can help students develop the kind of profile scholarship selection committees want to see.

Encourage First-Year Students with High Academic Profiles to:
  • Continue their studies of mathematics and foreign languages, as both are required for admission to Phi Beta Kappa and factor into the selection criteria for many nationally-competitive scholarships.
  • Begin planning in advance to spend a semester during their sophomore or junior year in an off-campus program.
  • Attend National Scholarship Program workshops and events.
  • Meet with a member of the National Scholarship Team to identify particular scholarships, fellowships, grants, and awards they might be eligible to compete for in the future.
  • Involve themselves deeply in a few activities they really enjoy.
Encourage Exceptional Students Majoring in Your Field to:
  • Engage in research, both independently and, if possible, in collaboration with department faculty.
  • Submit papers or poster presentations to academic conferences.
  • Enroll in challenging elective coursework in a wide variety of academic disciplines.
  • Pursue internships, research assistantships, and other professional experiences related to their future goals.
  • Join professional organizations.
  • Read scholarly journals.
  • Attend conferences.
  • Maintain significant involvement in a few meaningful extra-curricular activities.
  • Take advantages of opportunities to lead, both inside and outside the classroom.

The National Scholarship Team is happy to provide any faculty member with recommendations on what they can do to support a particular student’s preparation to compete for a national scholarship.

Writing Excellent Letters of Reference

Before agreeing to write a letter of reference for a student seeking a nationally-competitive scholarship, ask yourself two important questions: Based on my experiences with this student and my knowledge of the scholarship selection criteria, am I willing to give this student my highest endorsement? Will I be able to write an excellent letter of reference by the deadline?

If the answer to either question is “no,” or even, “I’m not sure,” it is probably in the best interest of the student that you decline the request.

If you agree to serve as a reference for a scholarship candidate, consider the following as you develop and submit your letter:

  • Follow the Instructions. Some scholarship programs have strict requirements for the content, length, format, and submission of reference letters. The student you are writing for will provide you with those requirements. It is important that you follow the instructions precisely; some scholarship programs will not accept a letter of reference that fails to conform with its policies.
  • Be Specific. Use particular examples of the student’s work to ground your claims about his/her abilities and potential.
  • Speak Directly to the Scholarship’s Selection Criteria. Address as many of the criteria as you can, based on your experiences with the student, but do not waste words discussing qualities that are not part of the selection matrix.
  • Do NOT Comment On Qualities You Haven’t Experienced First-Hand. Trust the students’ other recommenders to cover those areas.
  • Be Clear. If the student you are writing about is the very best student you’ve worked with in the past ten years, say that. Don’t mince words when it comes to the student’s excellence. Use clear and forceful statements to rate the student’s accomplishments and potential relative to peers.
  • Make the Reader Want to Meet the Student. Share examples of the kinds of intellectual exchanges you’ve enjoyed with the student or perhaps the ways you’ve seen the student reach out to help others. Paint a picture of the student’s character and spirit; help the scholarship selection committee see the person behind the transcript.
  • Request Feedback on Your Letter from the Resident Faculty Advisor for the Scholarship. Because so very much is at stake for the student, it is critically important that all parts of the application—including faculty reference letters—be error-free and completely in line with submission requirements.
  • Make the Deadline. A student’s application may be disqualified if even one letter of reference is not submitted by the deadline.