Applicant Guidelines

​​Whatever happens, applications are great opportunities for you to reflect upon where you are in your life and clarify what you care about. This is also a chance for you to share those reflections with the people who will be your recommenders, as a means of building relationships. To accomplish that in a way that will be most beneficial to you, contact any potential recommenders that you think of as soon as you finish reading this.

Whom to Ask for Recommendations

For the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF), we are looking for students who are intellectually curious, self-directed and disciplined, communicative, oriented toward community and mentorship, and genuinely interested in a possible future career as a professor. While we can learn a lot from your application materials, we get a fuller picture of you as a student and community member when others tell stories on your behalf. We are looking for recommendations that speak to you as a student, a researcher (if possible), and a member of an intellectual community. We would love to learn about you from someone who has interacted with you frequently and recently. Given that the mission of MMUF is focused on diversifying the professoriate, professors–especially professors who have taught you in class or worked with you on research–are in the best position to write you letters that will be meaningful to the Selection Committee.

How to Ask for Recommendations 

The first step is to think about who is likely to say the best, and most relevant, things about you. Read over the Recommender Guidelines yourself, and think about which of your instructors can tell the best stories about you that would answer those questions. Then write an email to the people you think of--it can be more than just two--including the following information:


  • Your first and last name
  • A brief reminder of how you and the person know each other, if you think that’s necessary
  • A statement that you are applying to the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, a brief description of what you understand that program to be (feel free to copy and paste any of our language), and a link to the program’s website (
  • An explicit request for whether this person believes they can produce a strong and positive recommendation in support of your application, with a brief explanation of why you are hoping for their support in particular, and a link to the recommender instructions
  • The application deadline (in bold)
  • An offer to meet with the individual in person, by phone, or by video chat at their earliest availability to discuss your interest in the program and the possibility of them recommending you
  • A list of all of the times that you can be available for that meeting within a week of when you are writing
What to Do if Someone You Ask Declines

If someone is not in a position to recommend you, don’t be discouraged! They may just be swamped with other things, or they may think they haven’t known you long enough or in the right context to be able to answer the questions well. Keep thinking of people and scheduling conversations with them until one person for each of the two types of recommendations has agreed to write a recommendation for you. Then ask whether they would like reminders from you. If so, set a schedule for those together, and make sure to follow up in exactly the ways you’ve agreed on. We can only consider your application once it’s complete with both recommendations, so do what you can to help ensure that happens, in a way that is assertive and builds a positive relationship with your recommenders.


Guide to Getting Quality Letters of Recommendation