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Advice for Recommenders

The insights you share — especially your vivid examples and detailed anecdotes — play a key role in our evaluation of potential Knight-Hennessy Scholars. We are grateful for your submission!

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program is a graduate-level scholarship at Stanford University that aims to develop a new generation of global leaders. If selected as one of up to 80 Knight-Hennessy Scholars for our 2021 cohort, the candidate you recommend will receive funding to pursue a graduate degree at Stanford, with additional opportunities for leadership training, mentorship, and multidisciplinary collaboration with scholars in other disciplines.


A candidate has asked you to provide an online recommendation. Now what? Keep in mind that the candidate selected you because he/she trusts your opinions, believes that you know her/him well, and knows that you want to see her/him succeed. It’s a major responsibility, because your recommendation may make the difference in the admission process.

The primary selection criteria for Knight-Hennessy Scholars are independent thinking, purposeful leadership, and a civic mindset. If you are not supportive of the applicant’s candidacy, encourage the applicant to find an alternate recommender. If you believe that the candidate is a strong fit for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, here’s some advice to help you write a strong recommendation:

  • The most useful recommendations provide detailed descriptions, candid anecdotes, and specific evidence that highlight the candidate's behavior and impact on those around her or him. This kind of information helps us to distinguish the very best applicants from a pool of many well-qualified candidates.
  • We encourage you to review the recommendation requirements well in advance, so that you can reflect and think before writing your letter.

If you also are writing a letter of reference for the applicant’s Stanford graduate degree program, focus on answering the specific questions that each application requires. The information that the graduate programs need from you differs from the information that the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program requests. We recognize that you are busy, but these should be distinct letters.

What We Ask You

Your online recommendation provides an external perspective on the applicant's abilities and accomplishments. There are two parts of the online recommendation that we ask you to complete.

  1. Character and leadership assessment form (see the assessment form). Be honest. Inflating your ratings in the character and leadership assessment form is not helpful to the candidate or to us.
  2. Answers to five recommendation prompts. Specific details, anecdotes, and examples are especially helpful. In your letter, please address the following:
    • Please explain how you know and interact with the applicant.
    • How have the applicant's actions and insights benefited others? Please provide specific examples.
    • What is the most important constructive feedback that you have given the applicant? Please explain the circumstances and how the applicant responded.
    • What does the candidate need to continue his/her/their intellectual development and professional growth?
    • Is there anything else — positive or negative — that we should know about the applicant?

Submitting Your Online Reference Letter

  • We strongly suggest that you submit your reference letter a day or two before the October 14, 2020 application deadline.
  • When the candidate requests a letter of reference from you in her/his online application, you will automatically receive an email from the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. Use the personalized link in the email to begin and submit your online recommendation. You must submit your reference letter though the online recommendation system: we are not able to accept recommendations or attachments by email.
  • You may start working on the recommendation and save your work as you go: you do not need to complete the recommendation in one sitting.
  • Write your letter in a word processing system and upload your letter into the online recommendation system in PDF or Word formats only. Until you submit the online recommendation, you may remove and replace that document if needed. After you submit the online recommendation, however, you may no longer edit your letter.
  • You must submit your letter of reference in English. If your English is not sufficient to convey complex ideas, write the letter in your native language and have it translated into English. Upload the original and the translation as a single document. A friend, a colleague, or a paid service may translate the document — and even Google Translate has gotten quite good recently! — but do not ask the applicant to translate the document.
  • There is no word limit for your reference letter, though most recommenders will find 250-750 words sufficient. Please use at least a 12-point font and double-space your letter.

Technical Requirements

  • We highly recommend using a current version of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox for the online recommendation system.
  • Adjust your junk/spam email filters so that you can always receive email from
  • If you have technical issues while completing your online recommendation, you may contact us at or call us at +1.650.721.0771.



Last updated June 11, 2020

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