Guidance for Recommenders
Letters of recommendation are unusually important elements in the applications of candidates for Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. So you can be assured that your letter will be read with care and given serious consideration.
This is the case because:
- Our selection criteria are unusual: they emphasize creativity, initiative, originality and accomplishment. Letters help us understand how well candidates fulfill those criteria.
- We want to make sure that candidates will be capable of completing a graduate program, but grades and the prestige of the individual’s college or university are not essential if the file contains persuasive evidence of the individual’s strength relative to the selection criteria. Letters help us assess the strength, validity, and significance of the evidence applicants present relative to our selection criteria.
- New Americans come to us from very different backgrounds and are at very different stages in their academic careers. We want to make sure we provide a “level playing field” in the consideration of their applications. Letters help us better understand how strong a candidate’s case is, given her or his background, opportunities, challenges, and academic level.
- Our selection process is truly national: we use no regional or university filters to screen out candidates, so recommenders are important in helping us establish relative merit across this national pool of applicants.
- We encourage an unusually broad range of academic, professional, and artistic pursuits. Since our readers and interviewers are rarely specialists in the fields or sub-fields of candidates they assess, we rely on recommenders to help us understand the significance of candidates’ work within their fields of endeavor.
Three very practical suggestions:
1. Please make sure you know -- and use – exactly the same name that the candidate uses in her/his application.
If the individual uses a hyphenated family name, please include the hyphen in identifying the candidate.
We typically receive about 3,000 letters of recommendation each year. In past years there have always been some that we were unable to match to a specific candidate because the letter didn’t specify the candidate’s family name or it used a family name that was different from the one used by the candidate in her/his application to this program. This is a special problem for us because the names of many of our candidates simply don’t correspond to the “Mary Jones” or “Henry Smith” formats that come out of the Anglo-Saxon and Romance language traditions.
2. Please note our November 1, 2014 deadline and make every possible effort to meet it.
Because letters are so important to our review process, the files of our candidates are not released to our reviewers until they contain all three of the required letters.
If you will be unable – or don’t really want – to provide a timely letter, we would encourage you to alert the candidate are early as possible so that she or he will have time to identify an alternate recommender.
- Please encourage the candidate to provide you with a copy of his/her essays, read them, and key at least some of your letter to providing validation and/or elaboration of the parts of the candidate’s story that you are familiar with.
It may be helpful if we indicate how the program approaches the key components of our selection criteria:
1. To what extent has the individual demonstrated creativity, originality and initiative in one or more aspects of her/his life?
- Creativity can be demonstrated in many different ways and arenas: scientific insight, artistic or literary expression, conceiving untried solutions to social problems, pursuing novel ways of addressing family and cultural challenges, etc.
- Originality may also be demonstrated in different ways: by founding a new kind of organization to address a problem, by exploring new paths to solving a scientific challenge, by approaching an intellectual or artistic problem from a new perspective, by pursuing a non-obvious way to resolve social conflict, etc. Originally typically shows a capacity to think independently and act in inventive ways.
- Initiative is typically demonstrated by taking self-generated action where others observe or ignore a need. It is reflected in a planned way of moving forward and usually requires enterprise and determination
2. To what extent has the individual demonstrated a commitment to and capacity for accomplishment that has required drive and sustained effort? We seek evidence that the individual has demonstrated capacity for determination and persistence by pursuing an activity to completion or a self-sustaining state; recruited successors, institutionalized some action, and/or made concrete what had been begun as a conceptual possibility.
3. To what extent has the individual demonstrated a commitment to the values expressed in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights? We seek evidence that the individual understands and accepts that being a citizen in a free society is a personal responsibility. Finalists vary in the extent to which they might reasonably have been expected to act on such an understanding, and to that extent, this criterion is “ optional.” Nevertheless, the program values activities in support of constitutional principles, exercise of freedom of speech, promotion of voting and other forms of citizen participation. These provide evidence that the individual understands and takes seriously the responsibilities of American citizenship and the importance of sustaining constitutional principles and the rule of law.
4. To what extent does the individual give promise of continued contributions that will be significant; will reflect distinctive creativity, originality and initiative; and will mark the candidate as a leading and influential figure within her/his fields of endeavor?
5. To what extent is the individual’s graduate training relevant to her/his long-term career goals and of potential value in enhancing her/his future creativity and accomplishment?