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Recommendation Letters

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The recommendation letters allow you to nominate two strong advocates who will complement your application contributions and confirm your qualifications, your potential, and your demonstration of our three criteria.

Ask for recommendation letters from two individuals who have the necessary knowledge of your qualifications, the desire to enthusiastically support your candidacy, and the time to author a strong endorsement. These recommenders must be able to provide specific examples, anecdotes, and evidence.

Register the recommenders through your online application as early in the application process as possible. The application system will send each recommender a personalized link to submit the recommendation online.

Recommendations are due by the application deadline. If you have completed the rest of the application and only the letters are missing, go ahead and submit your application. The system will permit you to submit your application even if your recommendations are not yet submitted. You need to submit your completed online application by the deadline, even if your recommendation letters have not been submitted.

Additional Instructions

Remember that your concurrent applications — the Knight-Hennessy Scholars application and the Stanford graduate program application(s) — have distinct evaluation criteria, application requirements, selection processes and timelines, and admissions committees. The recommenders you choose for your Stanford graduate program application(s) may or may not be your best advocates for your Knight-Hennessy Scholars application. Carefully consider whether you want to select the same recommenders or different recommenders for your concurrent applications. If you select the same recommenders, please encourage your recommenders to tailor their letters for each application.

Here are a few additional considerations as you choose recommenders:

  • We care about the content of the letter, not about the title or status of the person who wrote it. We are far more interested in your accomplishments than those of your recommender.
  • The strongest letters we receive come from individuals who have interacted with you closely, extensively, and recently (typically in the last two or three years).
  • The strongest letters we receive come from those who have observed and can comment, with specific examples, on your progress towards a goal. Character references without supporting evidence, even when highly positive, do not meaningfully improve your candidacy.
  • Your recommendations may be from academic, community, or professional contexts.
  • You may not write, draft, edit, translate, or submit the letter of reference. We will require you to affirm in your application that you have not done so. 
  • It is inappropriate to ask a family member to provide a recommendation letter.

For reference only, below is what we ask of your recommenders:

1. Applicant Assessment Form (Sample)

Please provide your perspective on the applicant based on the factors below. We rely on your honest views of the applicant’s abilities and potential. (If there are no areas for growth, then we wonder why the applicant would need to pursue a graduate education at Stanford.)

  1. I am rating this applicant relative to the following group:Example: [students / employees / volunteers ] I have [taught / advised / supervised ] in the [classroom / workplace / organization]
  2. There are approximately ________ [##] in this group. 
  3. Rate the characteristics of this applicant relative to the group you specified (sample assessment below).
 No Basis for JudgmentBottom 50% Top 25-50%Top 10-25%Top 2-10%Top 1%
Curiosity and Open-Mindedness       
Creative and Visionary Thinking       
Analytical Ability       
Courage and Resilience       
Ethical Decision-Making       
Potential to Inspire Others       
Collaboration and Empathy       
Acting in Service of Others       
Humility and Trustworthiness        

2. Overall Recommendation

I ___________ this applicant to Knight-Hennessy Scholars.

do not recommendrecommend with reservationsrecommendstrongly recommend

3. Answers to five recommendation prompts

  1. Please explain how you know and interact with the applicant.
  2. We seek visionary thinkers who demonstrate independence of thought. Describe how the applicant demonstrates intellectual curiosity and creativity to address challenges.
  3. We seek courageous leaders who demonstrate purposeful leadership. Describe how the applicant takes initiative to achieve meaningful results and effect positive change.
  4. We seek collaborative community members with a civic mindset. Describe how the applicant acts in service of others to elevate the greater good.
  5. Is there anything else — positive or negative — that we should know about the applicant?

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: May I ask the same person to provide recommendations for both Knight-Hennessy Scholars and my graduate degree program(s)?  

A:  Yes, you may. However, when choosing recommenders, please remember that your applications have distinct evaluation criteria, application requirements, selection processes and timelines, and admissions committees. If you choose the same recommenders, please encourage your recommenders to tailor their letters for each application.

Q: Do you review the recommendation letters from my graduate degree program(s)?

A: Your Knight-Hennessy Scholars recommendations are typically the only recommendation letters that we will review before we provide input to your graduate program(s). We may occasionally request to access and review your recommendation letters for your graduate degree program(s) if we believe they will aid us in our evaluation efforts. However, we encourage you to apply with the knowledge that we do not customarily review your recommendation letters for your graduate degree program(s).

Q: May I ask my family or friend to write a recommendation letter?

A: It is inappropriate to ask a family member to provide a recommendation. A friend is different from a peer. A peer is someone with whom you have worked towards a common goal. You may ask a peer for a recommendation. 

Q: I have both personal and work email addresses for my recommender.  Which one should I use for the application? 

A: Please use a work email address when available. 

Q: I am ready to submit my application but I am missing my recommendation letter(s). What should I do? 

A: Do not delay submitting your application because you are waiting for a recommendation letter. You may submit your application before your recommendation letters are received. Even if your recommendation letters are unexpectedly delayed, you must complete and submit your portion of the application by the deadline to be considered for admission.