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Advice for Recommenders

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Thank you for recommending an applicant to Knight-Hennessy Scholars! We welcome your insights, your vivid examples, and your detailed anecdotes about the candidate for admission. 

Knight-Hennessy Scholars cultivates and supports a multidisciplinary and multicultural community of graduate students from across Stanford University, and delivers engaging experiences that prepare graduates to be visionary, courageous, and collaborative leaders who address complex challenges facing the world. Each year we select up to 100 graduate students from across Stanford’s seven graduate schools, we fund up to three years of graduate study, and we prepare scholars for leadership roles in academia, industry, government, non-profits, and the community at large.


Knight-Hennessy Scholars develops inspiring leaders who have a strong multidisciplinary and multicultural perspective, a commitment to the greater good, and the tools needed to drive meaningful change. Your recommendation enhances our ability to evaluate and select these inspiring leaders. Our evaluation efforts depend on your candid assessment, and your input will materially influence admission outcomes. 

We believe the best recommendation letters reflect your knowledge of the applicant’s qualifications as it relates to the KHS criteria, your desire to enthusiastically support the applicant’s candidacy, and your time to author a strong endorsement. 

  • A strong recommendation letter demonstrates your knowledge of the candidate’s qualifications for admission, and supports those qualifications with descriptive examples, stories, and anecdotes. General language, even when highly positive, lacks helpful context. We evaluate applicants across three criteria - independence of thought, purposeful leadership, and civic mindset - and we rely on you to provide clear evidence of the candidate exhibiting these criteria.
  • A strong recommendation letter highlights your desire to provide examples of strengths and growth areas for the candidate. Focusing exclusively on strengths, although tempting, lacks helpful color. We strive to enroll candidates who will benefit from joining our multidisciplinary, multicultural community, and we count on you to help illustrate how being a Knight-Hennessy scholar helps the candidate grow. 
  • A strong recommendation letter reflects your expenditure of time, effort, and thought on behalf of the candidate. An assessment bearing your name but authored by the applicant or a third party lacks authenticity, compromises the integrity of the evaluation process, and mutes your valuable perspective. We ask that you alone will complete all parts of the assessment. We also encourage you to review the recommendation requirements well in advance so that you can reflect and think before writing your letter. 

What We Ask of You

We ask you to complete three components of the online recommendation:

1. Applicant Assessment Form 

Be discerning with your ratings and comments. Inflating your ratings in the applicant assessment form obscures our ability to understand and calibrate the candidate’s strengths and growth areas.

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 the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program.

do not recommendrecommend with reservationsrecommendstrongly recommend

3. Answers to five recommendation prompts 

Specific details, anecdotes, and examples are especially helpful. In your letter: 

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

If you are also writing a recommendation letter for the applicant’s Stanford graduate degree program, please tailor your answers for each respective application. The questions and criteria for the Stanford graduate program are different from those for Knight-Hennessy Scholars. We acknowledge that tailoring your recommendation letters requires additional time and effort, but doing so strengthens your support for the candidate in each respective application.

Submitting Your Online Recommendation Letter

  • We recommend that you submit your recommendation letter at least one to two days before the application deadline.
  • When the candidate requests a recommendation letter from you in the online application, you will automatically receive an email from Knight-Hennessy Scholars. Use the personalized link in the email to begin and submit your online recommendation. Note: You must submit your recommendation letter through the online recommendation system. We do not 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 Microsoft Word formats only. Until you submit the online recommendation, you may remove and replace that document if needed. After you submit the online recommendation, 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, website, or a paid service may translate the document, 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 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.

Thank You

We acknowledge and appreciate that providing a strong recommendation requires a significant investment of your time and energy. We sincerely thank you, and we will give your assessment the careful attention and consideration it deserves. 

If we can assist you in any way, please contact us at or call us at +1.650.721.0771.