Advice Regarding Letters of Recommendation

Kristin Ware -

Scholars are selected based on their academic achievements, leadership qualities, community engagement and campus involvement.  Based on the recommender's knowledge of the student applicant, Phi Theta Kappa and our panel of judges depend on insight, observations and candid feedback from the recommender writing the letter.

When applying for the Fall Scholarship Application, student applicants will be required to upload two letters of recommendation:

  1. Leadership Letter of Recommendation
  2. Academic Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should be provided on official letterhead and signed by the recommender.  Student applicants will need to upload the signed letters of recommendation into their scholarship applications.  Neither PTK staff nor recommenders will have access to student applications.

Recommenders should provide the following information in some format in the letter of recommendation:

  • Name
  • Professional title and organization
  • Academic discipline (optional)
  • Email
  • Phone number

Providing the relationship to the student applicant in the body of the letter helps judges to understand the perspective from which the recommendation was written.  Including this relationship could strengthen the recommendation.

**Letters of recommendation that have been requested by the applicant via the Phi Theta Kappa website are not acceptable and should not be submitted.**


Leadership Letter of Recommendation

The Leadership Letter of Recommendation should speak to leadership and should showcase specific examples of how the student has demonstrated leadership abilities, service involvement, and impact outside the classroom.  This recommendation should specifically address the leadership example the student discussed in the "significant endeavor" essay.  Failure to provide a leadership example and commentary on the essay response may make the scholarship application less competitive.  To facilitate this, the student has been asked to provide the recommender with a copy of the essay.

The Leadership Letter of Recommendation should be completed and submitted by a two-year college faculty member, administrator, dean, or an employer or professional at an organization where the student has volunteered.  

Judges expect the following questions to be addressed (in the recommender's own words) in this letter of recommendation: 

  • What is a good description of the applicant’s leadership ability?
  • Does the student display resilience and persistence when challenges or failure are encountered?
  • Does the student seek challenges to grow into a stronger leader?
  • Does the applicant motivate others and serve as a positive role model?
  • Do you have any concerns about this student’s character? If you do have concerns, should we contact you if the student is considered as a finalist for any program?

Including a specific example of how the student has demonstrated servant leadership and articulating the impact of the leadership skills demonstrated by the student will further strengthen the recommendation and impact the judges favorably. 

The student has been asked to provide recommenders with the essay articulating their most significant endeavor since attending the two-year college.  Specifically, judges review this endeavor for originality, initiative, degree of difficulty, results and benefit to society (lasting impact), and they look to the recommender to provide further knowledge of this endeavor.  This example is instrumental in evaluating the student’s leadership abilities and commitment to service.  Recommenders should confirm this endeavor occurred and that the results accomplished are correct as indicated by the student.  If the applicant does not provide this essay, recommenders should consider sharing this missing piece with the judges. 

Recommenders may also provide any further comments regarding the nature of the endeavor or evidence of originality, initiative, degree of difficulty, and results or benefit to society that were perhaps not articulated by the student.  If recommenders would like to clarify the student’s essay, they may include their comments in the letter of recommendation.


Academic Letter of Recommendation 

The Academic Letter of Recommendation should give specific examples of how the student has demonstrated academic progress and excellence, citing examples of in class participation and/or academic experiences while serving in a mentorship role to the student.

The Academic Letter of Recommendation should be completed by a mentor or supervisor who has directly taught or mentored the student while at the two-year college and must be a two-year college faculty member, administrator or dean.

Judges expect the following questions to be addressed (in the recommender's own words) in this letter of recommendation: 

  • Describe the student’s pursuit and persistence towards academic goals.
  • Does the student have well-defined academic goals?
  • Does the student utilize all resources available to them, taking active steps towards achieving their academic goals, or do they struggle?
  • Does the student seek guidance from others?
  • Does the student overcome obstacles in order to achieve academic goals?
  • Does the student extend his or her learning experiences beyond the classroom to impact others?

Judges are also interested in how the student seeks academic challenges (or if they don’t).  Citing evidence of the student’s commitment to academic engagement and excellence inside and/or outside the classroom further strengthens the application.  Recommenders should consider including a brief description of the student’s critical thinking skills and how this skill relates to performing research, connecting abstract ideas and how the student uses research to interpret abstract ideas against relevant standards.  Is the student open-minded, and can they think within alternate systems of thought? 

Other items for recommenders to consider when writing the Academic Letter of Recommendation:

  • When offered constructive feedback, does the student accept the feedback and face the challenge, actively seeking to improve the situation?
  • Does the student share their acquired knowledge with others?  Is it timely or relevant?
  • Share an example that demonstrates the student’s enthusiasm for learning and any other comments that you believe would strengthen the judges' opinions of the student’s academic excellence.



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