Mitchell Scholarship Recommenders
Writing Recommendation Letters by Joe Schall
The Mitchell Scholarship, named to honor the former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell’s contributions to the peace process in Northern Ireland, funds on e year of graduate study at an Irish university to twelve students per year. The scholarship provides airfare, tuition, fees, housing, and a stipend for living expenses. The Mitchell Scholarship Selection Committee interviews 20 finalists for the 12 scholarships in Washington, DC.
As with several other national scholarships, students must have no fewer than five references and no more than eight. Commenting on this number of references, the Mitchell Scholarship website notes that “The quality and not the quantity of the recommendations is what matters. Applications are urged to register more than the minimum recommenders in case the absence of a recommendation may jeopardize the candidacy of an applicant.” Recommenders also must note that the deadline is strict for their letter submission and will not be waived for any reason. Because the application package for the Mitchell Scholarship is due early in the academic year (October), students may—and probably should—request a letter of recommendation from you during the spring.
The criteria you should address in a Mitchell Scholarship recommendation letter includes:
- Documented evidence of a student’s achievements in academics, leadership, and service;
- Ability and maturity to pursue advanced study at an Irish university of the student’s choosing;
- If appropriate, commentary on how the student’s proposed plan of study could contribute to US-Ireland relations.
Recommendation letter writers are urged to provide candid commentary in the above areas, without ignoring the areas of leadership and service. Some recommenders fail to address leadership and service directly in their letters, or fail to define the categories broadly enough in their examples. Although there is no minimum GPA necessary for the Mitchell Scholarship application, an excellent undergraduate record and preparation for the proposed field of graduate study are vital to an applicant’s success.
In the two sample Mitchell Scholarship recommendation letters provided, note how the first letter amplifies on the student as a leader enrolled in a graduate-level seminar, and how two full paragraphs are devoted to context for the student’s interest in Peace and Conflict Studies directly connected to “issues of gender and politics in Northern Ireland.” The letter does not skimp on detail about either the student or the political circumstances in Northern Ireland where the student aims to study. The second letter, even more detailed than the first, gives abundant examples of the student’s personality and character, linking these directly to her leaderships skills. Most interesting, perhaps, is how the student is characterized as a forceful advocate” particularly interested in contemporary politics and “issues important to youth.” As with other national scholarship contenders, this student is unafraid of conflict and challenge, and thus the recommender can present her as a person engaged in the struggle to solve real-world problems.